What do Skittles and fake chicken have in common? An ingredient has been called “unfit for human consumption” in a recent California lawsuit.
The ingredient in question is titanium dioxide.
Titanium dioxide is an additive commonly used as a colorant to give foods a bright white hue. It is a common ingredient in paints and sunscreen lotions. In Skittles, the “S” stamped on the outside of the candy and the core of the sugary treat are both white. Titanium dioxide is also common in synthetic chicken, including Beyond Meat’s fake chicken tenders and Tofurkey “Chick’n.” (To see what other products have titanium dioxide, visit CleanFoodFacts.com.)
But in addition to providing a vibrant white color, titanium dioxide can have some dangerous side effects.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has issued a formal warning against the use of titanium dioxide as a food additive because it has been tied to neurotoxicity and inflammation. EFSA has also cautioned that titanium dioxide may be genotoxic, meaning it could potentially cause cancers by damaging a cell’s DNA. EFSA research has noted that titanium dioxide can build within the liver, spleen, and kidneys, though more research is needed to confirm the amount at which titanium dioxide causes damage.
EFSA is not alone in its concerns over titanium dioxide. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified titanium dioxide as a Group 2B carcinogen – meaning the chemical could cause cancers, but there have not been enough peer-reviewed studies to definitively classify the additive as carcinogenic. The state of California has also included titanium dioxide on its list of restricted chemicals under Proposition 65.
The United States Food and Drug Administration, however, has not outlawed titanium dioxide and it is allowed in foods so long as it is less than one percent of the product’s total weight.
Mars, the parent company of Skittles, maintained that its use of titanium dioxide is within the FDA’s regulation, though it had previously stated that it was working to remove the chemical from the candy.
In the lawsuit, the plaintiff argued that Mars misled Skittles consumers, writing, “Defendant relies on the ingredient list which is provided in miniscule print on the back of the Products, the reading of which is made even more challenging by the lack of contrast in color between the font and packaging.”
Many plant-based synthetic meat companies similarly rely on their ingredient list fine print to bury the truth about what is inside their products. While the front of the package may say the words “chicken” or “plant-based,” many consumers are likely unaware that these products are loaded with sodium, preservatives, and chemicals designed to mimic real chicken including titanium dioxide.
A recent poll revealed that more than 80 percent of consumers want clearer labels on fake meat products. More than 20 percent of respondents stated that they had unintentionally purchased a fake meat product while thinking it was the real thing.