Monday, March 11, 2024

Titanium Dioxide in Foods: Europe Rules One Way, Canada Another Way

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Science & Society, Nature of Science

Ed Hessler

Joe Schwarz, Director of the Office for Science & Society at McGill University, Canada takes a look at the use of titanium dioxide in foods. He points out that "in Europe it is not allowed as a food additive, but in Canada (his home country *)" it is found "in candies, chewing gum, pastries, cake decorations and coffee creamer. 
The question discussed in this column is whether we should worry about consuming products that contain this chemical compound.

Schwarz tells readers his position at the outset, writing "Before going further, let me say that I am not a friend of food colourants, including titanium dioxide. That’s because these chemicals have no purpose other than to make foods of low nutritional quality more attractive. However, after delving into the relevant scientific literature, I do not think that the European ban of titanium dioxide in food is justified. On the other hand, I believe Health Canada’s position that titanium dioxide as a food additive poses no health risk is supported by evidence." I don't think this deflates what follows.

Schwarz begins his examination of the evidence with a question likely to have occurred to you, i.e., how scientists in Canada and Europe "can look at the same data and come to different conclusions?" The lenses used are different.

The Canadian "government mandated (a) review of titanium dioxide as a food additive in 2022."  The reason was that it had been learned "that a portion of the particles in a sample may be in the 'nano' range. On this scale, particles can behave differently than larger ones even though they have the same chemical composition."

Schwarz explains differences in research design used by European and Canadian scientists, discusses the reason that the European International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) which "listed titanium dioxide as a possible human carcinogen." It is due to the evaluation method and there is an important distinction worth knowing about in discussions of such questions.

Schwarz closes with a summary which includes some things to consider when making food choices.

* You are sure to wonder about its use in the United States, particularly whether it is allowed in foods. This is a review which I found a useful addition to Dr. Schwarz's comments.

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