EU Bans Whitening Food Additive E171 as of January 1, 2022

Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP
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[co-author: Nour Bey*]

Takeaways

  • Food products containing E171 will no longer be allowed to be imported into Europe from January 2022.
  • From June 2022, the sale of products containing E171 will be prohibited in Europe.

Starting January 1, 2022, the use of E171 titanium dioxide as a food additive will be banned in Europe. The European Commission’s proposal to ban E171 in food products throughout the European Union was approved a few weeks ago by European representatives.[1] The text will enter into force at the beginning of 2022, unless the Council or the European Parliament objects. A transition period of six months will lead to a total ban on its use in food products as of June 2022. The Commission has posted questions and answers (Q&A) regarding its proposal.

This additive is used in a variety of food products, including chewing gum, confectionery, pastries, soups and ready meals, due to its ability to opacify and color a product.

In 2021, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) considers that the use of titanium dioxide as a food additive can no longer be considered safe, in particular because genotoxic effects cannot be excluded. Because of the impossibility to establish a restricted dose that can be considered safe, EFSA has determined that the use of titanium dioxide in food shall no longer be considered safe.

In light of this opinion, EU Member States and the Commission have decided to ban the E171 additive in food products. As the import ban starts in January 2022, The EU Commission has implemented a phase-out period of six months after which the sales ban on E171 in food products will apply.

The draft Commission Regulation proposes to amend two existing texts:

  • The Commission Regulation amending the Annex to Regulation (EU) No 231/2012 laying down specifications for food additives. This regulation sets specifications for food additives, including colors and sweeteners, listed in Annexes II and III of Regulation (EC) No 1333/2008.
  • The Regulation (EC) No 1333/2008 which lists in its annexes the permitted food additives in the EU:
    • Annex II – Community list of food additives permitted in food products and conditions of use.
    • Annex III – Community list of food additives permitted in food additives, food enzymes and food flavorings, and their conditions of use.

The modification of those authorities officially initiate a ban on E171 food additive in Europe. If adopted, the proposed regulation would have significant effect on the activity of global actors in the food industry operating in Europe.  As a result of the proposal to remove titanium dioxide from the list of authorized food additives, companies in the food industry will be prohibited from importing products containing E171 in Europe, but also from producing products containing E171 in the EU or selling those in the EU.

The use of E171 titanium dioxide is far from being limited to food products as it is also a central ingredient of a large number of medicines and cosmetic products. However, for the time being, the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries, will not be affected by the ban.

According to the Commission, the opportunity of a complete ban (i.e. not only limited to the food industry) will be reassessed in three years’ time, which will prompt companies of the pharmaceutical industry to work on replacing E171. As things stand, the European Medicines Agency tends to reject this ban in the manufacture of medicines as it could lead to a shortage of medicines. However, companies of the food industry will have to carefully monitor the composition of all imported products to ensure compliance with EU rules.

*Nour Bey is an intern at Sheppard Mullin.

FOOTNOTES

[1] See European Commission’s press release issued on October 8, 2021 and available at https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/MEX_21_5165 (Last Accessed: December 20, 2021).

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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