On Wednesday, the 20th May the European Commission published its new Farm to Fork Strategy which includes a clear acknowledgment of the need for EU laws on chemicals in food contact materials, like packaging, to be revised to improve the protection of public health, stating:
“”Food packaging plays a key role in the sustainability of food systems. The Commission will revise the food contact materials legislation to improve food safety and public health (in particular in reducing the use of hazardous chemicals), support the use of innovative and sustainable packaging solutions using environmentally-friendly, re-usable and recyclable materials, and contribute to food waste reduction.”
In the annex at the end of the strategy, the Commission propose an extended timeline to undertake this revision, stating that a “Proposal for a revision of EU legislation on Food Contact Materials to improve food safety, ensure citizens’ health and reduce the environmental footprint of the sector” is planned to be published in the 4th quarter of 2022.
CHEM Trust has been calling for a revision of the EU’s laws on chemicals in Food Contact Materials since July 2014, so we welcome this commitment.
The Commission’s own public consultation under the recent evaluation process has revealed that many stakeholders are calling for changes to the current system. The EU Parliament has also called for new legislation on FCM several times including in January 2020 in its resolution on the European Green Deal.
In the beginning of March this year, 33 international scientists published a joint consensus statement expressing deep concern about the inadequate safety assessment of thousands of potentially harmful chemicals in FCM and urging decision makers to act upon these concerns to protect public health.
There are many problems with the current legislation on food packaging, and other food contact materials, that need to be addressed such as:
- a lack of EU harmonised rules for many of the most common materials including paper, card, inks and glues
- lack of information and adequate risk assessment on the hazardous effects of many chemicals in FCM
- the problem of non-intentionally added substances (NIAS) which are impurities or reaction products that leach into food
- a lack of clarity regarding responsibility for ensuring safety in the supply chain for FCM,
- lack of enforcement of the rules.
These and other deficiencies have been highlighted repeatedly by CHEM Trust and other stakeholders. Recently CHEM Trust joined BEUC, HEAL, ClientEarth and Zero Waste Europe in a call for a full reform of the FCM legislation, addressed to the offices of the Commissioner for Health and Food Safety as well as the Commissioner for Environment and Oceans, Internal Market, and the Green Deal coordination in the Cabinet of the Commission President.
A clean circular economy
CHEM Trust supports the need to create a circular economy, but food packaging is one of the areas that emphasises the need for this to be a clean circular economy, which prevents any re-circulation of hazardous chemicals into packaging. For example, pizza boxes made of recycled paper have been found to contain the endocrine disrupting chemical bisphenol A (BPA), probably partly due to the presence of BPA in many till receipts.
Five Key principles for the future legislation
Last year, in response to the Commission’s initiation of an evaluation of the EU food contact materials legislation, CHEM Trust and six other NGOs together with Food Packaging Forum cooperated to develop five key principles which in our view should steer the choice of practical solutions and guide the development of the future legislation on FCM; in summary:
The new EU regulation of chemicals in food contact materials must ensure:
- A high level of protection of human health
- Thorough assessment of chemicals in materials and final articles
- Effective enforcement
- A clean circular economy based on non-toxic material cycles
- Transparency and participation
CHEM Trust Executive Director Michael Warhurst said:
“CHEM Trust welcomes the Farm to Fork strategy‘s clear commitment to improve the EU’s outdated and ineffective laws regulating chemicals in food contact materials like packaging and to reduce the use of hazardous substances. This revision is clearly needed in order to fulfil the Strategy’s objective of creating a “fair healthy and environmentally friendly food system” as a central part of the European Green Deal
We are, however, concerned about the extended timeline for this work, given that CHEM Trust first called for a revision of these laws in July 2014, nearly six years ago.
Policy makers in the Commission and Member States, working with stakeholders, need to act now to seek practical solutions to protect public health by developing modern EU legislation on food contact materials.”
Our food contact page gives more information on the issue.