cone maker sued; Lawsuit alleges ‘known toxin’ in rainbow candy

A consumer is suing candy maker Mars, claiming Skittles contain a “known toxin” that renders the rainbow candies “unfit for human consumption.”

In a class action lawsuit filed Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, attorneys for San Leandro-based Jenile Thames said Skittles are unsafe for consumers because they contain “elevated levels” of titanium dioxide.

Mars Inc. uses titanium dioxide to create Skittle’s well-known line of artificial colors. In 2016, the candy maker publicly announced its intention to phase out titanium dioxide from its products in the coming years, Thursday’s complaint said — but titanium dioxide is still used in products like Skittles today.

In a statement sent by Mars to TODAY and several other news outlets, the company said, “While we have no comment on pending litigation, our use of titanium dioxide complies with FDA regulations.”

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USA TODAY turned to Mars on Saturday for more comment.

According to the FDA’s Code of Federal Regulations, “the color additive titanium dioxide is generally safe to use to color food,” but there are some limitations — such as the amount of titanium dioxide not exceeding 1% of the food’s weight.

While the regulated use of titanium dioxide in food is still legal in the US, it has been banned in some other countries, including across Europe. In May 2021, the European Food Safety Authority announced that titanium dioxide “can no longer be considered safe as a food additive” – ​​noting, for example, the importance of genotoxicity concerns.

Genotoxicity is the ability of chemicals to damage genetic information such as DNA. “Uptake of titanium dioxide particles is low after oral ingestion, but they can accumulate in the body,” said Maged Younes, Chair of EFSA’s Expert Panel on Food Additives and Flavorings, in a statement at the time.

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In Thursday’s complaint, Thames’ lawyers argued that Mars failed to adequately warn consumers about these health risks, alongside its continued use of titanium dioxide in its products like Skittles.

“Based on the Defendant’s omissions, a reasonable consumer would expect the product to be safe to purchase and consume as it is marketed and sold,” the complaint reads. “However, the products are unsafe and pose a significant health risk to unsuspecting consumers. Neither before nor at the time of purchase does the Defendant advise consumers such as (Thames) that the products are unsafe for consumers and contain elevated levels of titanium dioxide, and should otherwise be approached with caution.”

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Thursday’s complaint also pointed to several Mars competitors — like Sour Patch Kids and Nerds — who the lawsuit says don’t use titanium dioxide to color their products. In addition, Thames’ lawyers noted that Mars has other confectionery such as M&Ms that “do not rely on titanium dioxide”.

Thames is seeking damages for fraud and multiple violations of California’s consumer protection laws, the amount of which will later be determined in a court case.

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