Firstly, MEPs objected to the EC’s proposal to reduce the amount of titanium dioxide (E171) currently used to colour baked goods and confectionery, instead calling on it to remove it from the EU list of permitted food additives.
Found in proportions greater than 50%
EU171 is party made of nanoparticles and mainly used as a whitening and brightening agent in breads, pastries, cookies, confectionery like chocolates and chewing gum, cheeses, sauces, skimmed milk and ice cream.
As many of these products are popular with children, MEPs are particularly concerned about them being potentially exposed to the additive.
Titanium dioxide can also be found in cosmetics, paint, sunscreen and medications, labelled as Pigment White 6 (CI 77891).
France banned its use from 1 January 2020, after a 2017 study suggested it may cause cancer. Researchers from France and Luxembourg found a 40% increase in precancerous growths in lab rats after the molecule had been added to their drinking water for 100 days.
Now, more than 85,000 European citizens from other member states have signed a petition supporting the French ban.
The adoptive resolution states that “most Member States have been struggling to enforce the requirement to label nanoparticles in food so far; whereas tests by consumer groups carried out in Spain, Belgium, Italy and Germany have found nanoparticles of titanium dioxide (E 171) in proportions greater than 50%, without the additive being labelled as ‘nano’, including in foodstuffs such as sweets, chewing gums, and cakes frequently consumed by children and other vulnerable sections of the population.”
The call was approved with 443 votes against 118, with 135 abstentions.
Lower limits of acrylamide
The second objection requested the Commission to ‘most urgently’ lower the proposed maximum level of acrylamide allowed for all biscuits and rusks, including those not specifically targeted at infants and young children.
The benchmark level for ‘biscuits and wafers’ (350 μg/kg) is way above 150 μg/kg benchmark level for 'biscuits and rusks for infants and young children', without parents being made aware of the difference.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has confirmed that acrylamide – a processing contaminant that occurs naturally when some foods are heated – increases the risk of developing cancer in all age groups.
Based on their lower body weight, infants, toddlers and children are the most exposed age group to the toxin. They also have a higher metabolism rate because of the larger liver/body weight ratio, making it more likely that glycidamide (the metabolite of acrylamide, which forms through biotransformation) can be formed at a higher rate, possibly enhancing its toxicity.
MEPs are calling on the EC to set the maximum level for acrylamide in biscuits and rusks below the current benchmark level of 150 µg/kg. Further, it has asked that levels in other baby foods and processed cereal-based foods for infants and young children be set below the current benchmark level of 40 µg/kg.
The MEP motion received 469 votes for to 137 against, with 90 abstentions.
Going forward, Parliament has called on the EC to withdraw the draft regulations and submit new maximum levels in accordance with the ALARA (As Low As Reasonably Achievable) principle as laid down in Article 2 of Regulation (EEC) No 315/93.
The Kerry solution
EU 2017/2158 came into force on April 2018, obliging food producers to apply tougher measures and follow best practice to reduce the levels of acrylamide in their products.
But with the call for even more stringent regulatory limits, this will place further pressure on food manufacturers already facing changing consumer demands and the sway towards clean label and organic foodstuffs.
Kerry Group believes it has a solution.
The company launched Acryleast, a non-GMO clean label processing aid, in January 2019, which it claims will enable manufacturers to reduce the presence of acrylamide in their products by up to 95%. It does not require any change to current manufacturing processes and can simply be labelled as ‘yeast’.
The product received its ‘organic suitable’ status in the EU in May 2020, making it the only organic-suitable acrylamide-reducing processing aid available in either the EU or the US.
“These are challenging times for food manufacturers as they work to adapt to the emerging demands of today’s marketplace. One of these evolutions is that consumers are now more focused than ever on protecting their health and that of their children,” said Mike Woulfe, VP of Enzymes at Kerry.
“We’re exceptionally pleased with the consistent and predictable performance of Acryleast in a wide variety of foodstuffs.”
Dosages and application methods obviously vary between different foodstuffs, but Acryleast has been found to lower acrylamide by 85% in baby biscuits (lab) and 93% in crackers (plant).
Authors: S. Boutet-Robinet, E Cartier, et al
Sci Rep 7, 40373 (2017)