For over four years CHEM Trust has been calling for the EU to review its ineffective laws regulating chemicals in chemicals in Food Contact Materials (FCM) like food packaging. On September 24th, the European Commission invited a wide range of stakeholders to a workshop in Brussels to (finally!) launch this review.
As we have highlighted in the past, the current laws do not properly protect public health, as many materials – like paper, card, inks and glues – are not controlled by harmonised EU laws, and where harmonised laws do exist (like for plastic packaging), these laws are too weak.
The stakeholder workshop on 24th September was an important step in getting the EU’s review off the ground, and this was probably the first time all relevant stakeholders, including EU governments, industry, NGO’s, scientists and others have had an opportunity to discuss these important laws. A full video of the workshop is available, along with the presentations, on the European Commission web site. This page also has other documents relating to the review, which is being led by the consultants Ecorys.
CHEM Trust collaborated with three other NGOs – Client Earth, HEAL and the European Consumers Association BEUC – to give a joint presentation explaining our concerns about the ineffectiveness of the current regulations, including:
- The lack of any effective EU regulation of food contact materials made of paper, card or coatings, inks and glues. Some national laws exist, but these can be bypassed through ‘mutual recognition’ of the weakest standards. This is also a particular issue for recycled paper and card.
- No effective link with the EU’s main REACH chemicals law, so chemicals can be banned by REACH – or be identified as a chemical of very high concern (for example a hormone disrupter) – but this has no direct effect on use in food contact materials.
- A secretive and un-transparent regulatory system, including an industry-only ‘expert’ stakeholder group.
Other speakers at the workshop expressed their concerns about the regulatory system, including the lack of harmonised EU controls for many routine food packaging materials, the complexity of the system for business and the lack of effective enforcement.
A particularly striking talk was given on the situation with regard to enforcement, which argued that enforcement (checking that companies are actually following the rules) was mostly not working. The speaker – from Zurich rather than the EU – had surveyed colleagues around the EU; he quoted one of them as saying:
“We do some enforcement in order to claim we do it. It achieves nothing”
One disappointing aspect of this review is that the Commission is insisting that it only focusses on analysing the deficiencies in the current law, rather than looking at how it can be improved. In our view it is very clear that a new regulatory approach is needed, and there shouldn’t be further delay in developing this approach, given that we are all being exposed to chemicals from food contact materials in our daily lives.
Dr Michael Warhurst, Executive Director of CHEM Trust commented:
“It is widely understood among experts that the EU’s laws which are supposed to protect the public from chemical in food contact materials are ineffective. The European Commission’s review is welcome, but it should be focussed on developing more effective regulations, not on demonstrating the failure of the current system.”
Ecorys consultants told the workshop that they planned to consult widely on their study and that they would have a draft report ready for a second workshop in October 2019. A final report would be submitted to the Commission soon after this, at the end of 2019. By this time a new European Parliament will be in place and a new Commission will be coming into office.
The current European Parliament agreed a very critical report on this regulatory system more than two years ago, in October 2016. CHEM Trust first wrote to the European Commission on this issue over four years ago, in July 2014.
Dr Michael Warhurst added:
“It’s unfortunate that the current European Commission has failed to respond to the many criticisms of this regulatory system until the end of their term in office. This means that it will be up to the next Commission, the next European Parliament and EU Governments to create a new approach that properly protects human health. CHEM Trust has been pushing for this new approach for over four years, and we will continue to do so.”
For more information on the work that CHEM Trust has been doing on this issue, including a workshop looking at how FCM laws could work more closely with REACH, see our web page on chemicals in food contact materials.