Mars, Inc., the candy company behind iconic brands including Skittles, is facing a class-action lawsuit filed in California that alleges it violated three consumer laws, including that the colorful sweets contains a toxin considered “unfit for human consumption.”
According to the lawsuit filed by Jenile Thames in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, Mars continues to sell Skittles with titanium dioxide, which Thames claims is a “known toxin.”
“In February 2016, [Mars] publicly committed to phasing out [titanium dioxide],” the lawsuit claims. It goes on to say the company “has flouted its own promise to consumers” by continuing to sell products with the compound more than six years later.
In October 2016, Jaydee Hanson of the Center for Food Safety seemed to confirm Mars’ position on taking steps to remove toxins, including titanium dioxide, from its products.
“We are pleased to see that Mars has taken a positive step toward eliminating toxic, unnecessary nanomaterials from its line of food products,” Hanson said in the press release. “We urge the company to speed up the removal of these additives, especially given the grave health concerns associated with titanium dioxide and other nanoparticles.”
But what is titanium dioxide and is it a banned ingredient in food products sold in the United States?
What is Titanium Dioxide?
Titanium dioxide is a chemical compound used in a variety of products because of its ability to give colors a higher level of opacity and brightness, according to ChemicalSafetyFacts.org, an online resource run by the American Chemistry Council. Consumers can find this compound in sunscreens, cosmetics, paints, toothpastes and more.
Any food company that uses titanium oxide must comply with the United States Food and Drug Administration’s detailed regulations about the percentages allowed in edible products. Specifically, the FDA states that titanium dioxide cannot exceed 1% of the food product’s total weight.
Mars does not dispute that Skittles contains the compound as a food colorant but argues that its use meets the FDA’s guidelines for safety.
“While we do not comment on pending litigation, our use of titanium dioxide complies with FDA regulations,” a Mars statement sent to The Washington Post reads.
If Titanium Dixiode Is FDA Approved, Then What’s The Issue?
In reality, most of Thames’ lawsuit isn’t contesting the legality of titanium dioxide in Skittles. Instead, the claims focus on the accusation that Mars makes it difficult for people to know that they are consuming something that has been deemed “unfit for human consumption,” even within legal limits.
As far as the headline-grabbing claim that titanium dioxide is “unfit for human consumption,” it appears to come from dominos that have started falling overseas. France completely banned the compound in 2019 and that the entire European Union did so earlier this year, calling it a carcinogen.
As a result of those decisions, the plaintiff in this lawsuit says that the candy maker’s use of titanium dioxide and how it prints its labels results in fraudulent business practices.
“[N]either before nor at the time of purchase does defendant notify consumers like plaintiff that the products are unsafe to consumers, contain heightened levels of titanium dioxide and should otherwise be approached with caution,” according to a portion of the lawsuit highlighted by Salon.
Despite the lawsuit, Skittles remains on the market because it meets the guidelines of the FDA and the popular candy has shown no ill effects on consumers.