A new peer-reviewed study on food grade titanium dioxide (TiO2) containing nanoparticles confirms that that there are serious potential health risks associated with consuming these particles and they should not be permitted in our food.

The study undermines the position of our food regulator – Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) – which continues to insist that there is no evidence that nano-titanium dioxide can cause harm when ingested. Food-grade titanium dioxide is approved as a white pigment (E171) in common foods such as confectionary and can contain up to 50 per cent nanoparticles. However, there are growing concerns that the ingestion of these particles could increase the risk of chronic intestinal inflammation and cancer.

The new study found that:

  • Long-term exposure to nanoparticles in the food colour additive titanium dioxide can trigger and accelerate early stages of colorectal cancer among rats,
  • When rats were fed titanium dioxide over a 100-day period, it entered their bloodstream through their intestines. 4 out of 11 rodents spontaneously developed non-malignant lesions in the colon.

Titanium dioxide is widely used as an additive in food as a whitener and brightener. In food testing commissioned by Friends of the Earth in 2015, nanoparticles of titanium dioxide were found in Mentos, M&Ms, gum, salad dressing, chicken salt, cake frosting, taco sauce and sour straps. At the time FSANZ dismissed these results based on a number of false claims.

FSANZ claimed that since titanium dioxide is deemed safe in foods, then nanoparticles of titanium dioxide are safe as well. That position is contrary to the prevailing scientific view that the safety of nanoparticles cannot be inferred from the safety of larger particles of the same material.

FSANZ claimed that there was no evidence that the use of nano-titanium dioxide was widespread. 100% of samples tested by Friends of the Earth that contained titanium dioxide contained significant quantities of nanoparticles.

FSANZ ignored the known inhalation risks of titanium dioxide (the IARC has declared it a possible carcinogen) – claiming it was irrelevant to ingestion but neither undertook or required studies of ingestion.

In response to the concerns raised about nanoparticles in food, FSANZ commissioned an independent report released last year. In its summary of the report FSANZ claimed it concluded that none of the nanotechnologies described are of health concern.

In actual fact the report concluded that “overall this review concludes there is insufficient, directly relevant information available to confidently support a contemporary risk assessment of nano-TiO2 in food.”

And now yet another peer reviewed study calls into question FSANZ’s commitment to food safety.

Will FSANZ finally admit that there appear to be significant health risks associated with the use of nanoparticles of titanium dioxide in food and prohibit their use until those risks are fully and independently assessed?

We suggest you don’t hold your breath, but start reading labels and avoid foods labelled as containing E171. In the meantime we will continue to challenge the institutional corruption that is so deeply entrenched within FSANZ.