Class action lawsuit claims Skittles are ‘unfit for human consumption’, but why?

A US citizen is suing the candy company Mars about their continued use of a potentially toxic nanoparticle as an ingredient in Skittles.

The class action lawsuit, filed in California last week by Jenile Thames and others, alleges that: Mars did not adequately warn customers about the chemical, titanium dioxide, which is “unfit for human consumption” and therefore committed fraud or omission.

Mars says Skittles are made in accordance with FDA regulations, which allow the use of titanium dioxide in less than one percent of the dried weight of the food, and the company hasn’t done anything wrong.

Titanium dioxide (TiO2) is a white colorant widely used in confectionery, pastries, cake decorations, candles, toothpaste, cosmetics, paint and paper.

Since March this year, titanium dioxide has been banned as a food additive in Europe due to concerns about genotoxicity (damage to DNA that can cause cancer) and uncertainty about how much is safe to consume. About half of the titanium dioxide particles fall into the nano range (less than 100 nanometers wide).

in 2016, Mars issued a statement saying that the use of artificial dyes would be phased out in five years, later clarifying that this also included titanium dioxide.

The Washington Post reports that the lawsuit alleges that: Mars “violated its own promise to the consumer” if “more than six years later, defendant continues to sell the Products with [titanium dioxide] unbeknownst to reasonable consumers purchasing the Products”.

The lawsuit alleges that Mars did not warn consumers about the risks of eating a candy containing titanium dioxide.

“Defendant relies on the ingredients list in tiny print on the back of the Products, which is made even more difficult to read by the lack of color contrast between the font and the packaging,” the lawsuit alleges.

Other brightly colored candy brands such as Sour Patch Kids, Swedish Fish and Nerds do not contain titanium dioxide, the lawsuit said.

European food manufacturers have until August to phase out the use of this chemical. Europe’s decision was based on an analysis of thousands of studies in mice and rats compiled by the European Food Safety Authority, which suggest that titanium dioxide usually passes straight through the body, but small amounts of the particle are absorbed.

Because the chemical could build up in the body over time, the European Food Safety Authority said they couldn’t rule out genotoxic effects.

The UK Food Standards Agency has decided not to ban titanium dioxide in foods, after reviewing the European decision and finding that there were too many limitations and uncertainties in the cited studies to support the conclusions made.

The UK agency said the wording of Europeans’ conclusion was “not helpful” in communicating risks and could cause undue concern to the public, but argues better data is needed for a more accurate assessment.

The Australian Food Authority is still investigating the matter.

The conclusions of one mouse study linking titanium dioxide to cancer have already been rejected by the Australian Food Authority based on flaws in the study’s design, but the authority plans a more comprehensive review.