Earlier this year, we brought you the story of the California plaintiff who sued candymaker Mars claiming that Skittles were “unfit for human consumption” because they contained an additive called titanium dioxide. Titanium dioxide has been used in everything from food to paint to add color and shine to products since it was approved for use by the FDA in 1966. In 1977, the agency gave titanium dioxide a status known as “generally recognized as safe.” That status exempted it from further certification and, in many cases, also meant that its inclusion was no longer necessary on ingredient lists for products that contained it. A scan of the 2021 database maintained by Label Insights shows over 11,000 products available that contain titanium dioxide in some way or form.
The federal lawsuit against Mars brought by the California plaintiff alleged that the company was using “heightened levels” of titanium dioxide in its manufacturing of Skittles, even though Mars had pledged to phase out the use of the chemical over five years in 2016. That lawsuit has since been dismissed by the plaintiff, although it was dropped in such a way that the plaintiff may sue the company again in the future.
Mars issued a statement saying that “we are pleased with this outcome and reiterate our commitment to manufacturing our products in compliance with strict quality and safety requirements.”
Those requirements are set forth by the FDA. And while Mars may claim to operate within the confines of U.S. federal regulation, safety regulators in other countries are not sold on the safety of titanium dioxide. Regulators in the European Union, for example, banned the use of the compound this year over concerns that exposure to the substance can damage human DNA. A number of studies over the years have also called the safety of the chemical into question causing some to wonder if “generally recognized as safe” is truly something that can be claimed for an additive that people have been ingesting without question for almost 60 years.