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Five key principles for future EU regulation of chemicals in food contact materials

CHEM Trust has highlighted for nearly five years, that the current EU laws regulating the chemicals used in food contact materials (FCM) such as food packaging, cutlery, and factory equipment do not properly protect public health. Many materials, such as paper, card, inks and linings are not controlled by harmonised EU-level laws, and where harmonised laws exist, like e.g. for plastic materials, the system is weak and outdated.

The European Commission has finally begun to review these laws, and their consultants are currently running a public consultation. CHEM Trust has been working with other civil society groups to establish some key principles for an effective new system for regulating the materials that are in contact with the food we eat every day.

The public consultation

The current public consultation is open until May 6th 2019. This consultation is a part of a broader evaluation instigated in September 2018 by the EU Commission to assess the current effectiveness and added value of the legislation governing the use of chemicals in FCM.

5 key principles for the future legislation

Since the Commission’s evaluation was launched, CHEM Trust has been cooperating with a group of NGO’s (European Environmental Bureau, ChemSec, Client Earth, Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL), The European Consumer Organisation (BEUC), Danish Consumer Council and US Breast Cancer Prevention Partners) and the science research organisation Food Packaging Forum to pinpoint the main problems with the current laws on FCMs.

As a result, we have developed 5 basic key principles which we believe should guide the future legislation to ensure that consumers are protected from harmful chemicals in their food.

The creation of these principles was inspired by the ‘Five Principles for a New EU Chemicals Policy“, which were agreed by a coalition of NGO’s at the end of 1999 (see Appendix below), near the start of the process that led to the EU’s REACH chemicals law.

The principles are meant to spark new discussions about the safety of FCM and final food contact articles and we encourage all stakeholders to evaluate if they can support these principles:

The new EU regulation of chemicals in food contact materials must ensure:

  1. A high level of protection of human health

All substances used in food contact materials should have adequate safety data, provided by industry and should be regularly reviewed for this use by public authorities. The presence of substances that are already restricted in the EU, and those meeting the REACH criteria for Substances of Very High Concern, such as CMRs, sensitizers or endocrine disrupters, should be automatically prohibited.

  1. Thorough assessment of chemicals in materials and final articles

The presence in, and migration of, chemicals in food contact articles – including Non-Intentionally Added Substances (NIAS) – should be measured, assessed and controlled. Absence of reliable migration data should imply presumption of full migration. Assessments of migration should include mixture effects and take a precautionary approach to exposures from non-FCM sources. Both industry and regulators should ensure that any migration is understood and limited to ensure a high level of protection of public health.

  1. Effective enforcement

National governments must ensure effective enforcement, including checks on both imported and EU-manufactured finished articles using the best available analytical methods. Producers and importers of chemicals used in FCM should always be responsible for providing adequate analytical standards and analytical methods to regulators and test laboratories. In the event of contamination of products with problematic chemicals, producers should be obliged to notify the regulators.

  1. A clean circular economy based on non-toxic material cycles

As the EU’s transition to a circular economy gains momentum, it is vital that the EU’s efforts to encourage recycling do not perpetuate the use of harmful chemicals in FCM. Adequate regulation and enforcement of all types of recycled FCM is required to ensure that recycled food contact materials are never less safe than virgin materials.

  1. Transparency and participation

Supply chains and final consumers should have a right to know the identity and safety information on chemicals used in, and migrating from, food contact materials. Regulatory and policy processes should as a minimum adhere to the same standards of openness and stakeholder participation that have been established in REACH.

Time to shape the future for FCMs

The Commissions’ evaluation was initiated by a stakeholder workshop in September 2018. CHEM Trust collaborated with ClientEarth, BEUC, and HEAL to give a joint presentation explaining our concerns about the ineffectiveness of current regulations and highlighting that the European Commission’s review is welcome, but it should focus on how to develop a new updated and more effective regulation, rather than focusing on the failures of the current system.

The public consultation is the next important step in the evaluation process, and CHEM Trust encourages stakeholders to respond to the consultation and call for new legislation based on the key principles.

Michael Warhurst, Executive Director of CHEM Trust said:

It’s a scandal that such an important use of chemicals, next to our food, is not properly controlled in Europe. Reforming these ineffective laws has to be an important priority for the next Commission, who should receive the outcome of this evaluation at the start of their term.”

Sidsel Dyekjaer, CHEM Trust’s Science and Policy Consultant, said:

Although the provisions in legislations such as REACH, the Cosmetics Regulations and the Toy Safety Directive are not perfect, they include some good principles that could be transferred to modernised FCM legislation. This must include the basic “no data – no market” principle of REACH as a guide for revised legislation on finished food contact articles in the future”.

If your organisation wish to support the key principles detailed above, please contact: Sidsel.dyekjaer@chemtrust.org

  • For an up to date list of organisations signed up to the five key principles, see this document
  • The key principles are also available in French and Spanish.

For more information on food contact material, see our main page on Food contact materials, and our blogs on Food Contact Materials.

Appendix: Five Principles for a New EU Chemicals Policy“, also known as ‘The Copenhagen Charter”

These five principles were agreed by a coalition of NGO’s at the end of 1999, near the start of the debate which led to the EU’s current REACH chemicals regulation:

“We demand from the EU review of chemicals policy:

  • A full right to know, including what chemicals are in products
  • A deadline by which all chemicals on the market must have had their safety independently assessed. All uses of a chemical should be approved and should be safe beyond reasonable doubt.
  • A phase out of persistent or bioaccumulative chemicals.
  • A requirement to substitute less safe chemicals with safer alternatives.
  • A commitment to stop all releases to the environment of hazardous substances by 2020.”

See page 15 of the old WWF publication  The REACH files: A policy guide, written in December 2004 by Michael Warhurst, now CHEM Trust’s Executive Director, to learn more about these principles and the REACH debate. Michael Warhurst (working for Friends of the Earth in 1999) and the co-founder of CHEM Trust, Gwynne Lyons (working for WWF in 1999) led the process that created these principles.