The French government has ordered a review of the safety of titanium dioxide as a food additive after a scientific study released on January 20 found health effects in animals that consumed the substance.
Titanium dioxide is widely used in industry as a whitener, notably for paint. It is an ingredient in some foods such as sweets and known as additive E171.
France’s National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA) and partners in a study on oral exposure to titanium dioxide had shown for the first time that E171 crosses the intestine wall in animals to reach other parts of the body, INRA said.
The researchers observed immune system disorders linked to the absorption of nano-sized E171 particles and found that swallowing regular doses of the additive led to a non-malignant stage of early cancer formation in the colon in 40 percent of animals, INRA said.
“While the findings show that the additive plays a role in initiating and promoting the early stages of colorectal carcinogenesis, they cannot be extrapolated to humans or more advanced stages of the disease,” it said, calling for further research to study later stages of cancer.
France’s agriculture and health ministries said in a statement they would request a review from the country’s health and safety agency ANSES to see if the additive presented risks for consumers.
The findings of the review were expected at the end of March, the ministries said, adding that this was in addition to a wider study of the risks of nanoparticles in food launched last year.
The European Union’s food safety agency EFSA last year completed a re-evaluation of the E171 additive in food, concluding that available data did not indicate health concerns. However, it recommended new research to fill data gaps on possible effects on the reproductive system.