Titanium dioxide, a substance added to food, cosmetics and paints, is set to be banned for use in food in Switzerland.
Switzerland’s Federal Food Safety and Veterinary Office (FSVO) has said that it plans to ban titanium dioxide (E171) use in food in Switzerland, according to various Swiss media.
The bright white substance, also known as E171, is used to to colour food. It is also used in toothpaste, pills, sunscreen, and other cosmetic substances, where it is confusingly known as Ci77891.
The UN International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has been looking at the substance for many years. In 2010, it published a research paper describing titanium dioxide (E171) as possibly carcinogenic to humans (Group 2B), while pointing out that relatively few studies were available.
Last week, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) announced that it no longer considered titanium dioxide (E171) safe for use in food. A critical element in the EFSA’s conclusion was genotoxicity, which refers to a substance’s ability to damage cell DNA. Titanium dioxide contains nanoparticles and these can enter cells, accumulate and upset cell DNA. Because even a single genotoxic cell could initiate long term damage to health, no amount of genotoxic substance can considered truly safe, said a spokesperson from EFSA.
Switzerland’s decision to ban the substance in food follows a similar announcement made by the European authorities last week.
Foods most likely to contain titanium dioxide include sweets, chocolates, chewing gum, biscuits and cakes, soups, broths, sauces and sandwich spreads. On labels it is usually displayed as E171. One website lists more than 10,000 branded food products, such as chocolates, sweets, chewing gum, biscuits, cakes, drinks and sauces that contain E171. The same site lists 149 offending products sold in Switzerland.
According to RTS, Migros and Coop, Switzerland’s two largest supermarkets, have been working on removing the substance from their products. Migros said it had been revising recipes for sometime. Coop said it has removed titanium dioxide (E171) from its own generic products. This does not mean the products sold in these supermarkets are all E171 free however. They stock other companies’ brands.
In 2019, researchers at the University of Sydney found a connection between titanium dioxide (E171) and diseases such as inflammatory bowel diseases and colorectal cancer. The link appears to be nanoparticle toxicity. Titanium dioxide nanoparticles appear to be entering cells that make up gut bacteria and damaging it.
“There is increasing evidence that continuous exposure to nanoparticles has an impact on gut microbiota composition, and since gut microbiota is a gate keeper of our health, any changes to its function have an influence on overall health.”, said Wojciech Chrzanowski, a nanotoxicology expert from the University of Sydney.
According to the authors of the University of Sydney research, titanium dioxide (E171) consumption has increased significantly over the last decade and has been linked to several medical conditions. Rising rates of dementia, auto-immune diseases, cancer metastasis, eczema, asthma, and autism are among a growing list of diseases that have been linked to a steep rise in exposure to nanoparticles, such as those contained in titanium dioxide (E171).
In 2007, Europe banned Red 2G (E188), another food additive used to colour meat, after it was discovered that the gut could convert it into aniline, a chemical that affects blood haemoglobin and may cause cancer.
For decades farmers and food manufacturers have been adding substances to food, either at the production end in the form of pesticides and antibiotics, or as part of it final formulation in the form of food additives. Increasingly, research is discovering links between seemingly harmless substances and disease. Such discoveries are almost certain to continue. In the meantime avoiding foods containing additives or antibiotic and pesticide residue is probably a good bet.