Skittles Skittish About Lawsuit Squawking
Candy maker Mars Inc. has shied away from speaking out against a class action alleging its Skittles confection contains “a known toxin.” We’re typically in favor of defending oneself, but this is a rare instance where the quiet routine may be justified because of the confusion over the issue. It’s a tough call.
A California man sued privately held Mars July 14 in San Francisco federal court alleging Skittles “are unfit for human consumption because they contain titanium dioxide.” Titanium dioxide is a naturally occurring white powder used in food to bring a whiteness or translucence. It’s also used as a white pigment in sunscreens, cosmetics and paints.
The suit garnered a lot of coverage but the issue isn’t new. Scientific papers about safety are indecisive. “It turns out there is no conclusive research showing the chemical, as it is used in food products, poses danger to people,” a July 29 Scientific American article summarized.
All Mars Wrigley ingredients are safe and manufactured in compliance with strict quality and safety requirements established by food safety regulators, including the FDA.
— Mars Wrigley
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has recognized the chemical compound as safe since 1966, but at no more than 1 percent of the food’s weight. Britain, Canada and many other countries also give it the nod. This year, however, the European Union banned it, saying it wasn’t clear what level in food would be safe; the EU didn’t actually say that it was unsafe. So that means Mars has to phase it out of its products in Europe.
The only response to the suit we’ve seen from Mars, whose Wrigley unit makes Skittles, was in a New York Times explainer. The company said its use of the compound “is in full compliance with government regulations. While we do not comment on pending litigation, all Mars Wrigley ingredients are safe and manufactured in compliance with strict quality and safety requirements established by food safety regulators, including the FDA.”
A couple of things about that. The only really sparkling part of the statement is its direct assertion that the ingredient is safe. It otherwise relies a lot on regulatory compliance, which is standard but a tad wimpy. And we’re always skeptical when a company says it doesn’t “comment on pending litigation” because it usually does when it serves its purposes.
And yet, given the disagreement over the ingredient, maybe it’s best to not get in the fray while this plays out. At some point down the line, Mars may want to be more forthright. And the issue is also playing out on a wider field: Brussels-based Titanium Dioxide Manufacturers Association is fighting the European ban.
Photo credit: PRCG
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