Lately, many companies have made changes to the ingredients in their products in response to consumer concerns. Just in the past month, McDonald’s announced it would switch to antibiotic-free chicken and Nestlé pledged to remove the artificial flavors and FDA-certified colors from all chocolate candy products.

This week, it’s Dunkin' Donuts' turn to announce a change. Shareholders, not consumers, are the impetus behind the company’s decision to phase out powdered sugar that contains titanium dioxide, according to CNN. The move comes after the corporate accountability group As You Sow introduced a shareholder proposal to Dunkin’ Donuts calling for the removal of the ingredient.

Titanium dioxide makes the powdered sugar brighter and whiter. It’s also used to whiten products like sunscreen and paints. As You Sow claims the ingredient “can cause DNA and chromosomal damage when consumed.”

A news release issued by As You Sow called this a “groundbreaking decision.” It also said Dunkin’ Donuts “has demonstrated strong industry leadership” and the “pressure is on Dunkin’s competitors to follow suit.”

As You Sow commissioned independent laboratory tests on the company's white powdered donuts and found they contained titanium dioxide nanomaterials.

Nanomaterials – substances engineered to have extremely small dimensions – offer new food industry applications. However, the small size of nanomaterials may also result in greater toxicity for human health and the environment. Insufficient safety information exists regarding these manufactured particles, especially for use in foods; preliminary studies show that nanomaterials can cause DNA and chromosomal damage, organ damage, inflammation, brain damage, and genital malformations, among other harms.
A representative of Dunkin’ Donuts told the Huffington Post that the titanium dioxide used in its powdered donuts does not meet the FDA definition of nanomaterial. Still, the company will be rolling out an alternative that doesn’t contain the ingredient, one that will make sure the “powdered donuts will look the same under the new formulation.”

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Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

Dunkin' Donuts to remove whitening agent
Shareholders make decision over concerns that titanium dioxide could be toxic.