Lawsuit over PFAS, titanium dioxide in pet food or packaging

Pet food makers use titanium dioxide to whiten poultry- or fish-based products and avoid a grey appearance.

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On November 4, lawyers filed a class action lawsuit against J.M. Smucker alleging that the company misleadingly labels 9Lives, Kibbles ‘n Bits and Meow Mix cat foods as being healthy, despite the presence of titanium dioxide in the pet foods and identified per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) on the packaging.

The lawsuit claims that Smucker "knew or should have known that titanium dioxide is unhealthy and raises health risks from various sources..." and that Smucker "sells pet food containing titanium dioxide and PFAS, abusing the public’s trust and failing to inform consumers of the implications of consuming the toxins."

The lawsuit isn’t the first time consumers have focused on PFAS or titanium dioxide.

PFAS on pet food bags

On November 3, the Environmental Working Group published a report stating that a laboratory working for the group had identified PFAS on 11 packages from seven pet food brands, but not in the pet foods themselves. 

Manufacturers use thousands of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), in products ranging from pet food bags to ammunition, climbing ropes, guitar strings and artificial turf. On pet food bags, PFAS help the bags resist moisture, fats and oils, and otherwise keep products fresh.

Along with their ubiquity, the problem arises from how slowly PFAS break down in the environment and in animals’ bodies. People and animals absorb PFAS, and the chemicals remain in their bodies for many years, if not life. Scientists have identified health risks from some PFAS, although not necessarily those used on pet food packages. Those risks included increased testicular and kidney cancer risk and infertility.

In the U.S., ten states now prohibit PFAS in food packaging, with more likely to follow in 2023, according to the Pet Food Institute. 

Those regulations include:

On Dec. 31, 2022, New York declared that no person shall distribute, sell or offer for sale any food packaging containing intentionally added PFAS.

Starting Jan. 1, 2023 in California, no person shall distribute, sell or offer for sale any food packaging that contains intentionally added PFAS or the presence of PFAS at or above 100ppm.

In Vermont as of July 1, 2023, a manufacturer, supplier or distributor shall not manufacture, sell, offer for sale, distribute for sale or distribute a food package to which PFAS have been intentionally added and are present in any amount.

In Connecticut as of Dec. 31, 2023 no food package to which PFAS have been intentionally introduced during manufacturing or distribution in any amount shall be offered for sale or for promotional purposes in this state by its manufacturer or distributor. 

Maine’s PFAS in Products Reporting Law goes into effect January 1, 2023 and requires manufacturers to report the intentionally added presence of PFAS in products or product components to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), including packaging. 

Titanium dioxide in pet food

The lawsuit also involved titanium dioxide in pet food. Titanium dioxide refracts light, creating an intense white pigmentation. Titanium dioxide has been used in human products including toothpaste, sunscreen, candy, cake frosting, plant-based chicken substitutes and dairy products, reported USAToday

Pet food makers use titanium dioxide to whiten poultry- or fish-based products and avoid a grey appearance, Greg Aldrich, Ph.D., professor and pet food program coordinator at Kansas State University, wrote in his Petfood Industry column. The chemical is also used to make items appear like bone or simulate fat marbling.

In 2014, environmental group Friends of the Earth published a study claiming that the size of the titanium dioxide in human food and other products mean the chemical is a nanoparticle, meaning it measures less that one hundred nanometers, and could pose health risks. However, that report was refuted by other researchers, reported The Conversation. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration allows titanium dioxide in food products at rates of less than 1% by weight.

In 2021, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) announced that titanium dioxide would no longer being considered safe as a food additive, and the European Commission declared that the chemical would likewise no longer be allowed in animal feeds, including pet food. A paper published in the EFSA Journal concluded that titanium dioxide could no longer be considered innocuous due to it’s potential to build up in animal’s bodies and subsequent potential for genetic toxicity, especially in long-lived or reproductive animals, including humans. However, the paper’s authors noted that scientists haven’t conducted much research on the effects of titanium dioxide in pet food.

Most research on the effects of high doses of titanium dioxide in dog and cat food has been conducted on rodents and extrapolated to pets, Aldrich wrote.

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