Jacob Borzeki/NoorPhoto/Getty Images
Why you can trust us
Mars, the company that owns Skittles, invites customers to “taste the rainbow” when they open a can and pour some multi-colored candy into their mouths. However, what they really taste like is titanium dioxide (TiO2).
Now, a class action lawsuit filed in US District Court for the Northern District of California on Thursday argues that the coloring chemical is a “known poison” that renders Skittles “unfit for human consumption,” as USA TODAY reported.
“Based on the defendant’s omissions, the consumer reasonably expects that the product can be safely purchased and consumed as it is marketed and sold,” the lawsuit states, USA TODAY reported. “However, the products are not safe and pose a significant health risk to unsuspecting consumers.”
TiO2 was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in food in 1966, according to the Los Angeles Times. The US agency still maintains that it is safe to use food coloring as long as no more than one percent of the weight of the food in question is added.
However, the story is different across the Atlantic. In May of 2021, the European Food Safety Authority said there was enough research to suggest the chemical was not safe to eat. This is because it has been linked to genotoxicity – the ability to damage a person’s DNA and thus cause cancer. In response, the European Commission moved to ban the chemicals in food by August of this year, according to The Washington Post.
TiO2 represents a common contradiction between regulators in the United States and the European Union, with the latter often moving to ban potentially harmful food additives earlier, the Guardian noted.
The United States often waits for damage to occur and the European Union tries to prevent it to some extent. “It often appears that the US prefers market over protection,” Tatiana Santos, director of chemicals at the European Environment Office, told the Guardian.
However, the California lawsuit asserts that Mars must bear some responsibility for its own components. The instigator of the lawsuit is San Leandro’s Jenelle Timms, according to the Washington Post. The Times said he would not have bought Skittles if he had known they contained TiO2, according to Today. The suit seeks damages for fraud and other violations of California consumer protection laws.
“The defendant relies on the ingredient list being provided in small print on the back of the products, which is made more difficult to read due to the lack of color variation between the line and packaging,” the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit also says Mars does not need to use TiO2 because the company has stopped using it in France, where it has been banned, according to Today’s website. Moreover, candies such as Swedish Fish, Nerds, and Sour Patch Kids achieve glossy color without the chemicals.
For its part, the company confirmed that it complies with US law.
“Although we do not comment on pending litigation, our use of titanium dioxide is in compliance with US Food and Drug Administration regulations,” a company spokesperson said today.
However, the lawsuit noted that Mars promised to phase out the chemical in 2016, but has yet to follow through, suggesting it is aware of the health concerns surrounding the ingredient.
“The defendant has broken his promise to consumers,” the lawsuit says, as reported by The Washington Post. “After more than six years, the defendant continues to sell products with [titanium dioxide] without the knowledge of reasonable consumers buying the products.”