THere’s a hidden ingredient used as a bleach in a plethora of foods, from candy and baked goods to cheeses and chewing gum. It’s called titanium dioxide, and while it’s widely used in the US, it’s banned in the EU as a possible carcinogen.

The additive, also known as E171, joins a host of other chemicals that are banned in food in the European Union but are allowed in the US.

These include azodicarbonamide, a bleaching agent found in foods such as bread, bagels, pizza and pastries in the US that has been banned in the EU for more than a decade. Known as the “yoga mat” chemical because it’s often found in foam, this additive has been linked to asthma and breathing problems in unprotected workers and, when baked, mouse cancer research.

Potassium bromate, an oxidizing agent often found in bread and dough and connected in animal studies for kidney and thyroid cancer, has been banned in the EU since 1990, but is still widely used in the US. Brominated vegetable oil is also banned in the EU, but is used as an emulsifier in citrus sodas and drinks in the US. Long-term exposure is associated with headaches, memory loss, and impaired coordination.

The Food and Drug Administration classifies these food chemicals and many others banned by the EU as “generally recognized as safe”.

Chemical safety processes in the EU and the US work quite differently. Where European policy tends to take a precautionary approach, trying to prevent harm before it happens, the US tends to be more reactive.

According to Tatiana Santos, chemicals manager, there is more of a “wait and see” approach. European Environmental Bureau (EEB), a network of environmental citizen organizations. “The US often waits until damage is done, and the EU tries to prevent it to a certain extent. It often seems that the US prioritizes the market over protection.”

The EU decision to phase out titanium dioxide comes after a food additive safety reassessment conducted by European Food Safety Association (EFSA), an agency that provides independent EU scientific advice on food-related risks.

EFSA scientists reviewed about 12,000 scientific publications. They are particularly interested in recent researchgenotoxicitytitanium dioxide nanoparticles – their ability to damage DNA and lead to cellular mutations, potentially causing cancer. In animal studies, nanoparticles have been found to affect microorganisms in the gutwhich can cause diseases such as intestinal and intestinal inflammation and colorectal cancer.

The EFSA Expert Group on Food Additives and Flavors found this. did not rule out fear about the genotoxicity of nanoparticles that build up in the body over time, meaning that they “can no longer be considered safe as a dietary supplement.”

white powder on black background
Titanium dioxide, known as E171, is used as a bleach in some foods. Photograph: Roberto Hanger/Alamy

Unlike the EU, the US does not have agencies such as EFSA that offer independent scientific evaluation of new chemicals being introduced to the market. And while the EU is constantly updating its methods and processes for evaluating new chemicals, some experts say the US system, established over half a century ago, needs to be updated.

The EU-funded EFSA was established in 2002 to identify existing and emerging risks in the food chain. European manufacturers interested in using new chemicals must undergo an EFSA scientific assessment that analyzes the manufacturing process, intended use and human toxicity, among other factors. EFSA then provides scientific advice to the European Commission, the authorities of the Member States and the European Parliament.

While there were previous criticism Regarding conflicts of interest, an EFSA spokesman said the organization has “a rigorous set of internal mechanisms and workflows to protect the independence of our science.”

IN THE USA Food Additives Amendment was established in 1958 after public concern about the safety of food chemicals. All new food chemicals were required to be evaluated and approved by the FDA, although chemicals already in the food system prior to the amendment were not re-evaluated.

In the case of additives such as titanium dioxide, manufacturers apply to the FDA for approval, providing evidence that the substance is safe for the intended use. The FDA will evaluate the application and approve the supplement if it concludes that the data provided demonstrates that the substance is safe to use.

It’s a “clear conflict of interest,” said Thomas Galligan, chief scientist for dietary supplements and supplements at the Science Center in the Public Interest, a nonprofit consumer advocacy group. “Of course [companies] want to say it’s safe.”

The FDA spokesman said that in addition to the manufacturer’s testimonials, the organization will conduct “its own review of the literature and other relevant information.”

In addition to the lack of an independent assessment, the guidance for conducting these food safety assessments has not been updated at the time of FDA since 2007.

“Therefore, even when these chemicals are evaluated, they do not use modern science in these evaluations, while The EU updates its recommendations pretty regularly,” Galligan said. “There were many research in toxicology over the past 15 years, this has not necessarily been implemented by the FDA.”

Galligan said this includes a better understanding of how different chemicals interact and how exposure to multiple chemicals can have a greater impact on someone’s health than exposure to any of them alone.

Most serious illnesses, such as cancer, are multifactorial, according to EEB’s Santos. “You can get cancer for a variety of reasons, and one of them is exposure to carcinogens. We are exposed to hundreds of chemicals every day. However, it is so difficult to retroactively prove that a particular chemical is the cause of, say, cancer, and so the precautionary principle should be used.”

An FDA spokesman stated that “the organization’s assessment of the safety of food additives and colors is based on the most current scientific evidence available at the time and includes information released by other regulatory agencies.”

It states that titanium dioxide is safe based on available data. “Available safety studies do not demonstrate safety concerns associated with the use of titanium dioxide as a color additive,” an FDA spokesman said.

The American Chemical Council (ACC), the industry body representing U.S. chemical companies, said in a statement, “The EFSA assessment did not conclude that E171 is genotoxic, but it did highlight an uncertainty about the need for further study of the substance’s effects.” The association added that the industry is “investing in new science to provide evidence that E171 is safe.”

The global titanium dioxide market is valued at $17.19 billion in 2020 and is projected to grow by more than 6% over the next five years.

The phase-out of titanium dioxide in the EU comes at the height of chemical modernization. Over the next five years, up to 12,000 chemicals found in food packaging, cleaning products, cosmetics, baby products, pesticides and more will be banned. Block vows to outlaw chemicals associated with cancer and endocrine disorders in an effort dubbed the “great detox”.

As the EU continues its work on chemicals regulation, some hope the FDA will be forced to do the same. “If you’re worried about these rules hurting the market, look to Europe,” Santos said. “He has banned or regulated thousands of chemicals on the market and we are still among the most competitive in the world.”

Santos also noted that studies have shown strong legislation. can really stimulate innovation, “pushing companies to innovate when chemicals could be banned.” She said, “Why not develop chemicals that are safe in the first place so that they don’t have to potentially be banned in the future?”

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