Food colouring banned by the EU due to its potential cancer risks is still allowed to be used as a whitening agent in Britain
- Titanium dioxide – or E171 on some labels – is used in paint and sunscreen lotion
- It can also be a whitening agent in sweets, cakes, mayonnaise and Easter eggs
- EU agency has ordered ban on substance on basis it is gentoxic – a cancer risk
- But UK’s Food Standards Agency says it is confident there is no safety risk
A widely used food colouring that has been banned as a potential cancer risk in the EU will continue to be permitted in Britain.
Titanium dioxide, which is commonly used in paint and sunscreen lotion, can be added as a whitening agent in sweets, cakes, mayonnaise, hot cross buns and even Easter eggs.
A snapshot survey of supermarket websites found products containing the chemical, which can appear on labels as E171, are widely available.
It appears in many supermarket own-brand products along with some sold by famous names such as Mr Kipling’s Angel Slices, Dr Oetker’s Fairy Sprinkles Mix and Cadbury’s Dairy Milk Jelly Popping Candy Chocolate Easter Egg.
The European Food Safety Authority has ordered a ban on the basis it is potentially genotoxic – a cancer risk. Some research has linked it to irritable bowel syndrome.
However, experts at Britain’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) are confident there is no safety risk and will continue to allow it to be used.
Titanium dioxide, which is commonly used in paint and sunscreen lotion, can be added as a whitening agent in sweets, cakes, mayonnaise, hot cross buns and even Easter eggs. (stock image)
Despite this, the additive will be banned in Northern Ireland, which must fall in line with EU food safety rules as a result of Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal.
FSA chief executive Emily Miles told board members: ‘The EU action was on the basis of the advice of the European Food Safety Authority which had raised potential concerns over accumulation of particles of the additive in the body and possible genotoxicity.’
But she said the FSA has not identified any safety concerns based on the advice of two UK expert committees on food and additives.
Despite these reassurances, FSA board members are concerned it may be difficult to explain why Britain will have different food safety rules to Europe and Northern Ireland.
Board member Margaret Gilmore said: ‘It is very confusing when the EU says something is not safe and we say it is safe.
‘How can we keep the public’s trust onside… when it comes down to a different interpretation of the science?’
The European Food Safety Authority has ordered a ban on the substance on the basis it is potentially genotoxic – a cancer risk. Some research has linked it to irritable bowel syndrome. It is also found in hot cross buns (pictured in stock image)
The EU ban was announced in October last year, but businesses have been given until August 7 for it to take effect.
The FSA said it is carrying out a safety review and will report early next year. The Food and Drink Federation, which speaks for manufacturers, referred questions to the FSA.
Many brands and UK supermarkets have decided to follow the decision of EU watchdogs and remove the ingredient. Cadbury, owned by Mondelez International, Dr Oetker and Tesco have all said they are phasing out the use of titanium dioxide.
Sainsbury’s and Waitrose both said they are monitoring its use while awaiting the FSA review.
Premier Foods, which owns Mr Kipling, said it had no comment on the issue.
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