In response to a shareholder request, the parent company of Dunkin’ Donuts is reportedly testing alternatives to titanium dioxide as a whitening agent in the powdered sugar used to top some of its doughnuts. Submitting the request was the group As You Sow, a non-profit foundation based in Oakland, CA, which focuses on environmental and social corporate responsibility issues. According to a March 5 statement on its website, the group has withdrawn the request in response to the commitment from Canton, MA-based Dunkin’ Brands Group Inc.“This is a groundbreaking decision. Dunkin’ has demonstrated strong industry leadership by removing this potentially harmful ingredient from its donuts,” said Danielle Fugere, president and chief counsel for As You Sow, adding, “Engineered nanomaterials are beginning to enter the food supply, despite not being proven safe for consumption. Dunkin’ has made a decision to protect its customers and its bottom line by avoiding use of an unproven and potentially harmful ingredient.” While As You Sow called titanium dioxide a “whitening agent that is commonly a source of nanomaterials,” the company stressed that it is not a “nanoparticle” as defined by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). “The ingredient used in our powdered doughnuts does not meet the definition of ‘nanoparticle’ as outlined under FDA guidance,” said Karen Raskopf, chief communications officer for Dunkin’ Brands. “Nevertheless, we began testing alternative formulations for this product in 2014, and we are in the process of rolling out a solution to the system that does not contain titanium dioxide.” In a June 2014 guidance document, FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition stated that the agency hadn’t yet set regulatory definitions of “nanotechnology,” “nanomaterial,” “nanoscale,” or other related terms. As You Sow commissioned independent laboratory tests of certain Dunkin’ Donuts products and other “white powdered donuts” in 2013 and found that they contained titanium dioxide nanomaterials. Because of the small size of the nanomaterials, the group stated that they may pose 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,” As You Sow noted. The group indicated that its next step is to pressure other doughnut manufacturers to stop using the whitening agent. “The pressure is on Dunkin’s competitors to follow suit,” stated Austin Wilson, As You Sow’s environmental health program manager. “Peer-reviewed research on titanium dioxide nanoparticles has found that they may damage human cells and DNA. Investors expect companies to take a precautionary approach to health and safety.” The group submitted the shareholder request in May 2014 asking the company to publish a report on the use of nanomaterials in Dunkin’ Donuts food products or packaging by Nov. 1 of this year. “The report should identify products or packaging that currently contain nanomaterials; the purpose of such use; and actions management is taking to reduce or eliminate risk, such as eliminating or disclosing the use of nanomaterials until they are proven safe through long-term testing,” read the request. As You Sow stated at the time that 18.7 percent of Dunkin’ Brands shareholders, representing $547 million, had supported the proposal at the company’s annual general meeting held May 6, 2014, in Quincy, MA. According to a proxy statement filed March 26, 2014, with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the company’s board of directors recommended that investors vote against the proposal. However, Raskopf indicated the company’s interest in responding to such requests in this statement emailed last week to USA TODAY: “Dunkin’ Brands understands that investors are increasingly interested in the sustainability of the companies in which they invest. As part of our ongoing stakeholder engagement process, we recognize the importance of engaging in productive, ongoing dialogues with our investors to understand and address their concerns, as appropriate.”