A California man has sued Mars, the company that makes rainbow-hued Skittles, claiming that the use of titanium dioxide in the candy makes it “unfit for human consumption.”
The use of the additive - which is employed as a coloring agent - in foods isn’t illegal in the United States. The Food and Drug Administration permits its use in most foods, though it restricts it to 1% of a food’s weight. Mars contends it has done nothing wrong. “While we do not comment on pending litigation, our use of titanium dioxide complies with FDA regulations,” a Mars spokeswoman said in a statement given to The Washington Post.
But the class-action lawsuit, filed Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California on behalf of San Leandro resident Jenile Thames and others who purchased the candy, argues that the company’s failure to warn consumers about the potential dangers of titanium dioxide amounts to a fraud of omission as well as other violations of California law.
Mars announced in 2016 that it planned to remove artificial coloring from its products over the following five years and later clarified that titanium dioxide was among the colorants it would phase out. “Defendant has flouted its own promise to consumers,” the lawsuit claims. “More than six years later, Defendant continues to sell the Products with [titanium dioxide] unbeknownst to reasonable consumers who purchase the Products.”
The European Commission’s ban on titanium dioxide as a food additive in the European Union goes into full effect in August. The European regulators cited fears that an accumulation of titanium dioxide particles in a person’s body could cause genotoxicity, the ability for a substance to damage DNA, potentially causing cancer. The U.K., however, did not come to the same conclusion and still permits it.
The California filing, which seeks unspecified damages, alleges that Mars did not inform consumers about the presence of the colorant, which it describes as “unfit for human consumption.”
“Defendant relies on the ingredient list which is provided in miniscule print on the back of the Products, the reading of which is made even more challenging by the lack of contrast in color between the font and packaging,” it claims.
The lawsuit notes that other candy brands, including Sour Patch Kids, Swedish Fish and Nerds, are vibrantly colored like Skittles - yet don’t rely on titanium dioxide.