Consequently, advocacy group As You Sow has withdrawn a shareholder proposal – an identical proposal received 187% support at Dunkin’s annual general meeting (AGM) last year – asking the donut chain and franchise to assess and reduce the risks of using ‘nano’ (small) materials in its food products.
This follows As You Sow tests commissioned in 2013, which found titanium dioxide (TiO2) – common in consumables from sunscreen to toothpaste – at a nano level in Dunkin’s white powdered donuts.
Tests found that Dunkin’ Donuts Powdered Cake Donut contained TiO2 particles at 19 parts per million (ppm), some of which were smaller than 10 nanometers/one billionth of a meter (nm) in size. While As You Sow admits that there are different definitions of a ‘nanoparticle’, it insists this measure is conservative.
Engineered to be extremely small, nanomaterials offer many new food industry applications. They can make products creamier without the need to add further fat, intensify flavors and even show when food spoils.
But As You Sow believes their small size may result in greater toxicity for humans and environment damage, and insists the “pressure is on” Dunkin’s rivals to follow suit.
The group argues that insufficient safety information exists regarding these manufactured particles – especially for use in foods.
It claims studies – one example it cites is Jugan et al. 2012, writing in Nanotoxicology – show that nanomaterials can cause health issues including DNA and chromosomal damage, organ and brain damage.
Danielle Fugere, president and chief counsel of As You Sow, said Dunkin’ Brands decision was “ground-breaking” and praised the company for its strong leadership in removing a “potentially harmful ingredient”.
“Engineered nanomaterials are beginning to enter the food supply, despite not being proven safe for consumption. Dunkin’ has made a decision to protect its customers and its bottom line by avoiding use of an unproven and potentially harmful ingredient,” he said.
A Dunkin’ Brands spokesperson told BakeryandSnacks.com: "The ingredient used in our powdered donuts does not meet the definition of “nanomaterial” as outlined under FDA guidance. Nevertheless, we began testing alternative formulations for this product in 2014 and we are in the process of rolling out a solution to the system that does not contain titanium dioxide."
Although The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not currently regulate nanomaterials in food, the agency released non-binding guidance on the use of nanomaterials in food in June 2014.
“FDA does not categorically judge all products containing nanomaterials or otherwise involving application of nanotechnology as intrinsically benign or harmful,” the agency writes, noting that ‘traditional foods’ can sometimes include particles that extend into the nano range.
But the FDA says intentionally produced nano foods with consistently smaller-sized particles may have different bioavailability and raise new safety issues, and urges that safety assessments of nano food substances be “as rigorous as possible” and based on data relevant to intended use.
“Where safety questions are raised that experts would need additional data to resolve and such data are not generally recognized, the criteria for Generally Recognized As Safe [GRAS] would not be satisfied for the use of such food substances,” the agency states.
“At this time, we are not aware of any food substances intentionally engineered on the nanometer scale for which there are generally available data sufficient to serve as the foundation for a determination that the use of a food substance is GRAS,” it adds.