Bruno Lemaire

French government backs titanium dioxide ban (E171)

The Minister of Economy Bruno Lemaire announced on January 8, against all expectations, his intention not to ban the food additive E171 more commonly known as titanium dioxide. The decision has been postponed until later, when scientific evidence has been gathered on the dangerousness of this nano-product widely used in food. In the meantime, the minister is blaming the industry by proposing not to use this additive "if they have any doubts". This is yet another illustration of the State's disengagement in the face of pressure from industrial lobbies at a time when serious public health imperatives are at stake.
L’additive E171, composed of nanoparticles of titanium dioxide, will not be suspended, for the time being, in France. This is the decision of the Minister of Economy Bruno Lemaire. The Egalim law, resulting from the "États généraux de l'alimentation", which was adopted in November 2018, provided for its suspension because of the health risks posed by this product. However, this provision could only come into force after a ministerial order had been issued. It is this decree that Bruno Lemaire has said he refuses to sign, referring to the result of new scientific expertise, which will not be carried out for several months. A respite generously granted by the French government to industrialists who make extensive use of this additive suspected of presenting a carcinogenic risk.

A questionable omnipresence

Present in food in nanoparticulate form through the name E171, titanium dioxide is commonly used as a pigment to give a bright and smooth white appearance to pastries or confectionery or to opacify yoghurt or ice cream, chocolate bars, etc...
Food, cosmetics, medicines... As the magazine Que Choisir reminded us last February in a large survey on nanoparticles, these compounds with a size of less than 100 nanometres are omnipresent in our daily lives, despite doubts about their safety. Indeed, their small size favours their penetration into the body and the crossing of biological barriers (from the lungs and intestines to the blood, from the blood to the brain). Their large surface area of contact with the outside world and the reactivity that characterizes them reinforces this toxic potential.

READ IN UP' : Candies and cakes filled with nanoparticles: danger?

Multiplication of doubts

In 2006, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified titanium dioxide as "potentially carcinogenic". It was not until 2017 that the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) decided on a classification of the substance as a category 2 carcinogen and the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA) published a study on the precursor effects of E171 carcinogenesis.
As a reminder, the deputies of the Sustainable Development Committee of the National Assembly adopted on 23 March 2018 an amendment concerning titanium dioxide (E171) which stipulates that the import and placing on the market "free of charge or against payment" of any foodstuff containing the additive with whitening and opacifying properties would be suspended from 1 June 2018 and this, until the publication of the opinion of the ANSES which is still awaited.
This request follows last year's NARI study showing an altered intestinal immune response and concluded that chronic exposure to E171 promotes the growth of precancerous lesions in rats. The National Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health Safety (Anses) also reminds on its website that a study conducted in 2017 "shows that chronic exposure of rats to titanium dioxide (additive E171, partially nanometric) by the oral route would be likely to lead to precancerous colorectal lesions".
With regard to the harmfulness to humans, while much research is currently being done, the task seems difficult because the mechanism of action of these tiny particles is complex to study.
Already in 2010 the French Agency for Environmental and Occupational Health Safety (AFSSET) recommended limiting public exposure to products containing titanium dioxide nanoparticles in a report on the risks associated with nanomaterials, invoking the precautionary principle.
In February 2018, the French authorities asked the European Commission to suspend the use of titanium dioxide as a food additive and requested that E171 be re-evaluated as a matter of urgency. These re-evaluations are ongoing and will not be completed for at least six months. It is this expectation that would have been the reason why the Minister for the Economy did not take a decision.
According to the magazine What to chooseDespite the accumulation of all these doubts, nanoparticles have found their way into many industrial recipes. More than 400,000 tons of nanomaterials have been introduced into various manufactured products in France in 2016 alone. Tests have thus revealed the presence of this dye in the form of nanoparticles in food products of all kinds: cakes, sweets, chewing gum, cappuccino powders, spices and dehydrated soups. But also in cosmetics (toothpaste, sunscreen...). And finally in common medicines, such as Dafalgan (1 g film-coated tablet) or Doliprane (500 mg capsule), Efferalgan, Spasfon, Nurofen, Euphytosis and Ibuprofen, ... which are far from being isolated cases. Because the figures obtained by consulting the database listing the medicines marketed in France are staggering: more than 4,000 medicines contain the dye E171!

Serious health risks

One of the major issues raised by the increasing production and use of nanoparticles is the health risk that could arise from the increasing, repeated and continuous exposure of the population to these chemical compounds. Inhaled, ingested or passing through the skin, nanoparticles can travel through the bloodstream and reach all organs where they can accumulate.
Several effects of nanoparticles on the brain have already been observed by different research teams around the world. First of all studies have been shown to damage the blood-brain barrier (the protective barrier in the brain), which may make it more permeable to other potentially neurotoxic products.
Damage to brain function has also been reported in animals: nanoparticles cause learning deficits in rats (copper nanoparticles) and disrupt the neural mechanisms involved in memory (zinc and titanium nanoparticles). Silver nanoparticles also disrupt the functioning of the blood-brain barrier and lead to nerve cell degeneration. Finally, nanoparticles of titanium dioxide and zinc oxide can trigger nerve cells to produce free radicals (called oxidative stress) capable of inducing neuronal death and brain damage.
In addition, it is important to note that in mice, maternal exposure to certain nanoparticles (particularly titanium dioxide) during gestation affects the normal development of the fetus to the point of inducing malformations in the fetus. brainThe results of the study show the existence of maternal-fetal transmission of these particles in spite of the placental barrier.

READ IN UP' : Nanoparticles pose a serious risk to the brain...


The precautionary principle is for others

Titanium dioxide is a prime public health suspect. The precautionary principle should have prompted the state to take a clear and definitive decision. By not doing so, the State is taking the blame on the industrialists by asking them to give up this product if they have any doubts. « When in doubt, it's up to the industrialists to refrain ", explained the minister on the set of the program C à vous on France 5 on Wednesday. An interpretation of the precautionary principle that makes associations and NGOs scream: " No: when in doubt, for health safety, it is his duty, as a Minister of State, to act without delay to protect his fellow citizens and therefore to sign this suspension order. "says the director of the NGO Future Generations in a statement. France nature environnement writes in the same vein: " The Mayor's intervention worries us because it relieves the government of its responsibilities in terms of public health. ".
Once again, the government is kicking the bucket and choosing, among the emergencies, the one to delay. It also seems to be giving in to industry and backing off on public health, environmental and climate issues. The current Minister of Ecology, François de Rugy, has met with little resistance to the pressing demands of his colleague from the economy: what are doubts about public health worth in the face of a 6.5 million tonne market for titanium dioxide and the needs of the food industry to offer increasingly attractive products even if they are poisons? It is this kind of situation and the inability to impose oneself firmly that led Nicolas Hulot to resign. It must be said that, for the current French government, environmental or food safety issues do not seem to be a priority. It is true that it has other concerns at the moment...

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