CHEM Trust: Consultation responses highlight support to address harmful chemicals in Food Contact Materials

Last week marked one year since the European Commission opened the public consultation on the revision of EU Food Contact Materials (FCM) legislation. While the revision proposal is yet to be published, responses to the consultation demonstrate that there is wide-ranging support for action to address hazardous chemicals in FCMs.

Over 12,000 substances have been identified for use in the manufacturing of food packaging and other FCMs, such as cookware and factory equipment. Many of these chemicals have been associated with harmful impacts on our health and can pollute our environment. This includes 352 substancesthat are known to be carcinogenic, mutagenic or toxic to reproductive (CMRs). Many more substances do not have sufficient data on their impacts.

The FCM framework legislation stems from 2004 and a long overdue revision was first promised in May 2020 in the Farm to Fork Strategy, part of the European Green Deal. It set out plans to revise the legislation, with a particular focus on reducing the use of hazardous chemicals. This included addressing the non-intentional presence of hazardous substances via stronger requirements for the finished FCM articles. The proposal for the revision was planned to be published in late 2022. The Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability further highlighted action on FCMs, and set out plans to ban the use of the most hazardous chemicals in consumer products, including in food contact materials.

However, the revision has been subject to a series of delays, and a legislative proposal is now expected in “2024 and beyond”.

Consumers support action on the most hazardous chemicals in FCMs

Despite these delays, responses to the public consultation demonstrate that action to improve the legislation – and specifically action to restrict the most hazardous chemicals in FCMs – continues to have support from the European public.

Consumers who responded to the consultation overwhelmingly agreed that substances that can cause cancer, or that can affect the reproductive or endocrine system should not be present in FCMs.

These responses support the results of a survey by BEUC – The European Consumer Organisation, published in April 2023, which found that most consumers surveyed were worried about the impact of chemicals present in food packaging and kitchenware on their health. 9 out of 10 supported stricter rules to prevent health impacts from chemicals in food packaging.

In their responses to the consultation, NGOs and public authorities generally preferred that the most hazardous chemicals – such as endocrine disrupting chemicals, those that are CMRs, those that are persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic (PBTs), and those that are toxic to a specific organ (STOT) – would be addressed through a generic risk assessment (GRA). Business association and companies generally preferred specific risk assessments for these substances.

The revision of the FCM legislation is desperately needed to improve the EU’s outdated and ineffective laws and increase chemical safety of food contact materials. CHEM Trust first highlighted the need for a revision of the legislation in July 2014.  We have worked with NGO partners to call for action on harmful chemicals in food contact materials for several years. Learn more on our Toxic Free Food Packaging website.

Dr Anna Watson, Director of Policy and Advocacy at CHEM Trust said:

The Food Contact Material legislation is in real need of attention. NGOs, public authorities, and decision makers agree that the current laws do not sufficiently address hazardous chemicals in food packaging and other FCMs. Alongside consumers, they are calling for action. A strong, protective proposal should be published as soon as possible.

Action on bisphenol A in FCMs

This summer the Commission announced it intended to ban the use of bisphenol A (BPA) in food contact materials, including in plastic and coating packaging. A Q&A document published by the Commission explains that the restriction may also address the use of other bisphenols that are toxic to reproduction or endocrine disruptors.

The Commission’s decision to ban BPA in FCMs was prompted by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)’s re-evaluation of the toxicity of BPA, published in April. After reviewing more than 800 new studies EFSA reduced the tolerable daily intake of BPA by 20,000 times, and concluded that people in all age groups are at risk from BPA in their diets.

Toxic-free products by 2030

CHEM Trust is also calling on the EU authorities to protect their citizens from harmful chemicals by introducing robust legislation to phase out the most harmful chemicals from consumer products by 2030, including in food contact materials.

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