Business·Marketplace

Banned in Europe, this controversial ingredient is allowed in foods here

A CBC Marketplace investigation found some food manufacturers are producing snack foods for the Canadian market that contain an ingredient banned in Europe.

Health advocates calling for change as food manufacturers produce dual versions of snack foods

A bag of nerds, skittles, and m&m's next to european versions of the same candy.
Marketplace ordered snacks from Europe that are also sold in Canada to see how the additives differ. (David MacIntosh/CBC News)

A CBC Marketplace investigation found some food manufacturers are producing snack foods for the Canadian market that contain an ingredient banned in Europe. 

That additive, titanium dioxide, was banned in the European Union after a May 2021 European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) review couldn't rule out that it may cause DNA or chromosomal damage in humans.

"What we concluded was that we could not really exclude the possibility that titanium dioxide can damage the DNA material, the genetic material in the cells," Camilla Smeraldi, team leader for EFSA's food additive and flavourings team, told Marketplace in an interview from her office in Parma, Italy. "It's not something that we should intentionally add to foods."

  • Watch the full Marketplace episode, What's in Our Food?, Friday at 8 p.m., 8:30 p.m. in Newfoundland, on CBC-TV and anytime on CBC Gem or YouTube.

Marketplace ordered some popular internationally sold snack foods from Europe to see how the ingredients differ from what's being sold in Canada.

We found manufacturers are making different versions of the same snacks — one for sale in Canada and the other in Europe. 

Bowls of Candy. On the left, candy appears slightly brighter than the bowl on the right.
Marketplace ordered snacks from Europe, on the right, to compare them to the Canadian versions, on the left. The Canadian versions contain titanium dioxide, the European versions do not. From the upper left in clockwise order: M&Ms chocolate/milk chocolate, Nerds Gummy Clusters Rainbow, Skittles Original/Fruits, Nerds Rainbow/Fruits. (David MacIntosh/David Abrahams/CBC)

The order included Skittles Fruits, Nerds Fruits, Nerds Gummy Clusters Rainbow and chocolate M&Ms. There is no titanium dioxide in the versions ordered from Europe, but the additive is in the snacks sold to Canadians.

Making snacks more visually appealing

Titanium dioxide is used to make foods look more appealing, especially brighter and whiter. 

Health Canada published a review of titanium dioxide studies in June 2022, which found there is no conclusive scientific evidence that the food additive is a concern for human health. 

"Health Canada's report on titanium dioxide as a food additive placed the greatest emphasis on the studies it considered to be the most reliable and relevant," a spokesperson for the department told Marketplace in an emailed statement, adding that could change if new scientific evidence finds the additive is not safe.

A consumer health watchdog says food manufacturers should proactively offer the titanium dioxide-free versions to everyone, no matter where they live.

"Food companies do not need to wait for regulations," said Thomas Galligan, a scientist who studies food additives for the Washington-based Center for Science in the Public Interest.

"I'd like them to make the choice to reformulate their products, to get rid of titanium dioxide … for the good of public health," he said.

WATCH | The additive, titanium dioxide, is used to make food look brighter: 

Why are some food manufacturers using certain controversial additives in Canada but not in Europe?

2 months ago
Duration 2:00
A CBC Marketplace investigation found some food manufacturers are producing different versions of the same snack foods — one with certain artificial additives for Canadians and the other without for European consumers.

Galligan says Canadian consumers should be protected from titanium dioxide, "to the same degree that European consumers currently are."

Marketplace asked the manufacturers why they don't sell titanium dioxide-free versions of these snacks in Canada like they do in Europe. 

Mars Wrigley, the company that makes Skittles and M&Ms, said all of its products "are safe and manufactured in compliance with strict quality and safety requirements established by food safety regulators."

The maker of the two Nerds products, Ferrara Candy Company, said it complies "with all laws and regulations related to our products and will continue to do so in the future," and use ingredients that "are safe to consume." 

The full Marketplace episode also explores other controversial ingredients and why they get warning labels in Europe but not in Canada.

Watch the full episode:

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

Subscribe to our newsletter for consumer news, tips and insider info to help you save cash and stay healthy.

...

The next issue of The Marketplace Watchdog newsletter will soon be in your inbox.

Discover all CBC newsletters in the Subscription Centre.opens new window

now