Titanium dioxide, or generally indicated under the reference E171, suspected of generating toxic effects, will be banned for consumption from 1 January 2020 in France.
A few days after the presentation of the ANSES opinion, the ministers of the French ecological and solidarity transition, François de Rugy, signed an order suspending the placing on the market of foodstuffs containing titanium dioxide. Also known as E 171 or TiO2, this food additive is suspected to be carcinogenic to humans – in fact, ANSES has not been able to remove uncertainties about the safety of this substance. Also, foods containing titanium dioxide will be banned for sale in France from January 1, 2020.
Deploring "lack of scientific data" on this topic, the agency concluded that these studies do not allow to "confirm or deny the potential" carcinogenic E171 in humans. It had to analyze the result of 25 new toxicity studies, which had, among other things, demonstrated the toxic nature of this additive on rodents. It has a carcinogenic risk, in particular for colon cancer, toxicity to neurons and deterioration of reproductive function in guinea pigs.
ANSES reiterated "its general recommendations on nanomaterials aimed in particular at limiting the exposure of workers, consumers and the environment, by promoting safe and equivalent alternatives in terms of efficiency". This was in line with the repeated warnings from consumer and environmental advocacy groups that titanium dioxide was a real nemesis – including the Cancer League, Greenpeace, Foodwatch, 60 million consumers or the Alliance for Health and the Environment.
This decision is therefore an application of the controversial precautionary principle, which divides the scientific community. This decree will be notified to the European Commission and to the other Member States because titanium dioxide has an authorization issued at European Union level. Also, it risks causing a fragmentation of the European market. Many food products will have to be adapted specifically for the French market. Unless the other member states are aligned with the Paris decision.
This additive mainly responds to an aesthetic function. It serves to whiten or intensify the shine of food products. "For drugs, as for toothpaste, it's more complicated, it will take more time," says one to Bercy. "There is a form of inconsistency in taking note of the uncertainties surrounding titanium dioxide and limiting its prohibition to only foods, even though this additive is also ingested when brushing teeth, especially children, and even more so with drugs, "warned Stéphen Kerckhove, the general delegate of Acting for the Environment.