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Are Skittles banned in Europe and could they be banned in the US?

Bruno Cooke July 18, 2022
Are Skittles banned in Europe and could they be banned in the US?
Photo by Gary W. Green-Pool/Getty Images

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A lawsuit against Skittles claiming the candy is “unfit for human consumption” raises questions about whether or not they could face a ban in the US in the future – and are they currently banned in Europe?

As it stands, Skittles are available to buy in most of Europe, although not all of the continent sells them.

However, they do not contain exactly the same ingredients.

So, why are Skittles banned in certain parts of Europe, why do they contain different ingredients in the rest of the continent, and what are the odds they’ll soon face a ban in the US?

“Carnation, WA, USA – May 4, 2012: A bag of Skittles candy, distributed by the WM. Wrigly Jr Company of Chigago Illinois, USA”

Are Skittles banned in Europe?

Europe-wide, no. 

But the European Union (EU) did announce in 2021 that titanium dioxide – one of Skittles’ ingredients in the US – is not considered safe in food.

You can find titanium dioxide in lots of foods, including soups, sauces and sandwich spreads. Everyday Health quotes associate professor of paediatrics Sheela Sathyanarayana, MD as saying titanium dioxide is “something that can build up over time”.

This is because the human body doesn’t excrete it very well, she says. The additive, which people also know by the name “E171”, is potentially genotoxic, according to the European Food Safety Authority’s assessment, published 6 May 2021.

Skittles for Joshua

Where in Europe are Skittles banned, and why?

Everyday Health’s assessment reports the EFSA’s recommendation that it “likely means the additive will be banned eventually”. But it hasn’t happened yet. There hasn’t been a Europe-wide initiative to start the process either.

However, Sweden and Norway have banned Skittles. The reason the two Northern European nations made the decision to eliminate Skittles from their citizens’ diets is fear over potential allergic reactions and hyperactivity in children – not the presence of titanium dioxide.

In the US at least, Skittles contain artificial colours yellow 5 and yellow 6. Eat This, Not That cites a report by the Centre for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) to support the claim. In the rest of the EU, Skittles contain different colorants. Anything containing the artificial colours yellow 5 and yellow 6 must have the following clearly visible on its packaging: “May have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children”.

Photo by Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Is the US banning Skittles?

No. At least, not yet – and probably not as a result of the California lawsuit above.

Jenile Thames’ lawsuit, writes Today, claims the candy contains “heightened levels” of titanium dioxide (aka TiO2, or E171). Thames seeks unspecified damages for fraud and violations of California consumer protection laws.

A Mars Inc spokesperson said to the outlet: “While we do not comment on pending litigation, our use of titanium dioxide complies with FDA regulations.

France banned the toxin in 2019, and the European Food Safety Authority determined it unsafe for consumption two years later.

As it stands in the US, companies can include titanium dioxide in their products as long as it does not exceed one percent of the product’s overall mass.

So, if the Food and Drug Administration makes the decision to outlaw the use of TiO2, Mars will have to make the decision to discontinue sales of Skittles in the US, or simply make them using a different recipe.

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Skittles in Europe do not appear to contain titanium dioxide

The ingredients of Skittles are available to view on the brand’s official website. 

Titanium dioxide is far from the only additive that remains unregulated in the US compared with Europe. Because of this, there are several differences between the ingredients lists of US Skittles and UK Skittles.

Most importantly for the present case, the ingredients list for Skittles sold in the US includes titanium dioxide (as well as yellow 5 and yellow 6). Meanwhile, the Skittles you’ll find on supermarket shelves in the UK do not contain titanium dioxide (E171). Nor do they contain yellow 5 (aka tartrazine, or E102) or yellow 6 (sunset yellow FCF, or E110).

The US therefore needn’t ban Skittles outright, however the present lawsuit plays out. But there is a chance that the current legal proceedings result in a change of ingredients.

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Bruno is a novelist, amateur screenwriter and journalist with interests in digital media, storytelling, film and politics. He’s lived in France, China, Sri Lanka and the Philippines, but returned to the UK for a degree (and because of the pandemic) in 2020. His articles have appeared in Groundviews, Forge Press and The Friday Poem, and most are readable on Medium or onurbicycle.com.