Skittles lawsuit: What is titanium dioxide and why is Mars being sued?

·3-min read
Mars is being sued in the US, as a consumer alleges Skittles are not fit for human consumption.  (Getty Images)
Mars is being sued in the US, as a consumer alleges Skittles are not fit for human consumption. (Getty Images)

Confectionary giant Mars is being sued in the US by a consumer who has alleged that Skittles are “unfit for human consumption.”

The popular sweets, which bear the tagline “taste the rainbow” contain a colour additive called titanium dioxide, which is banned by the EU, but is still permitted in the US and the UK.

Skittles in the UK do not contain titanium dioxide, but the additive is present in the sweets in the US.

But what is titanium dioxide and why is Mars being sued?

What is titanium dioxide?

Titanium dioxide is a colour additive known more commonly as E171.

According to the American Chemistry Council, it is a “white solid inorganic substance” and is used in a range of items including sun cream, makeup, paint, plastics, food and more.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says titanium dioxide “may be safely used for colouring foods generally,” but subject to restrictions. For example, it cannot exceed one percent by weight of the food.

In March, the UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) decided not to follow the European Union (EU) in banning titanium dioxide as a food additive.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) raised concerns over possible genotoxicity, which means the chemical could damage DNA and lead to cancer. The EU will ban the ingredient from August 7, and it will also be banned in Northern Ireland, due to the Northern Ireland protocol

According to Food Safety News, the FSA and Food Standards Scotland (FSS) are doing a risk assessment on titanium dioxide that should be ready in early 2023.

Why is Mars being sued over Skittles?

Jenile Thames alleges in her lawsuit that the Skittles contain “heightened levels” of the colour additive titanium dioxide (TiO2).

She claims that Mars is still using the ingredient in the US after commiting to phasing it out in 2016 and that the company hasn’t informed “consumers of the implications of consuming the toxin”.

Thames’ lawsuit says that she wouldn’t have bought Skittles if she had known it contained titanium dioxide, and she’s arguing the sweet packet’s font makes it difficult to read the ingredients.

A Mars spokesperson said: “While we do not comment on pending litigation, our use of titanium dioxide complies with FDA regulations”.

How do Skittles in the UK compare to the US?

According to the Skittles website, in the US, the sweets contain the following ingredients, including titanium dioxide: “Sugar, Corn Syrup, Hydrogenated Palm Kernel Oil; Less Than 2% Of: Citric Acid, Tapioca Dextrin, Modified Corn Starch, Natural And Artificial Flavours, Colours (Red 40 Lake, Yellow 5 Lake, Blue 2 Lake, Yellow 6 Lake, Titanium Dioxide, Blue 1 Lake, Yellow 6, Red 40, Yellow 5, Blue 1), Sodium Citrate, Carnauba Wax.”

The ingredients differ in the UK and contain the following: “Sugar, Glucose Syrup, Palm Fat, Acids Citric Acid, Malic Acid, Dextrin, Maltodextrin, Flavourings, Modified Starch, Colours E162, E163, E170, E160a, E100, E132, E133, Acidity Regulator Trisodium Citrate, Glazing Agent Carnauba Wax.”

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