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European Parliament study and draft MEP report confirm problems with EU laws on food contact chemicals

The debate on the regulation of chemicals in Food Contact Materials – such as packaging – is starting to heat up, with a new study from the European Parliament’s Research Service (EPRS) echoing many of the criticisms that CHEM Trust made in our briefing on the subject.

In addition, the MEP acting as a rapporteur on the European Parliament’s investigation of this issue, Christel Schaldemose, has published her draft report, which suggests possible areas of improvement.

The EPRS study makes clear that most stakeholders – including among industry and EU governments – think that the current regulations are inadequate, in particular because of the lack of harmonised rules regulating the use of chemicals in many food contact materials, including paper, card, inks, glues and coatings:

“For a large majority of stakeholders (across almost all categories), the current legal framework regulating food contact materials at EU level is not complete….

this lack of specific measures for some food contact materials results in internal market barriers, increased compliance costs – which are eventually covered by end consumers – loss of competitiveness and innovation, and delayed market access for businesses…

The lack of uniform EU safety standards for non-harmonised FCMs … also means that uniform safety across the EU could not be ensured in practice.”

The draft parliamentary report written by MEP Christel Schaldemose includes a number of recommendations, including:

“…given the prevalence of the materials referred to on the EU market and the risk they pose to human health, the Commission should prioritise the drawing-up of specific EU measures for paper, board, coatings, inks and adhesives

…in light of the EU’s focus on moving towards a circular economy, specific measures at EU level should also be proposed for recycled paper and board;”

This report will be debated in the European Parliament’s Environment, Public Health and Food Safety committee later in May, then amendments will be tabled by MEPs on the committee, who are due to vote on them in mid July. The report is due to be agreed by the full parliament after the summer.

CHEM Trust raised our concerns about the poor regulation in this area in a letter to the then Health Commissioner Tonio Borg in July 2014. We also highlighted the issue in a briefing that we launched at the European Parliament’s hearing into the subject in January 2016, and we also responded to the EPRS’s consultation as part of the preparation of their study.

Dr Michael Warhurst, Executive Director of CHEM Trust, said:

“CHEM Trust welcomes this new study from the European Parliament’s Research Service, which echoes much of what we’ve been saying over recent years. It’s not acceptable for an everyday chemical exposure like food contact materials to not have proper EU regulation.

The Commission must now acknowledge that this policy area needs the resources necessary to develop and implement a regulatory system that protects the public, and addresses important issues like the use of recycled materials in food packaging.”

  • ENDS Europe has established more information about the Member State views given in the EPRS report & quoted CHEM Trust on the issue of enforcement:

‘The survey does not identify which [8] member states support tougher FCM restrictions but ENDS understand the group includes France, Denmark, Germany and Sweden….

“Enforcement is essential to ensure that it’s not possible for companies to cut corners, yet industry sources tell us that the UK Food Standards Agency, for instance, does very limited surveillance work in this area. The European public deserves better,” CHEM Trust executive director Michael Warhurst told ENDS’