- What is the problem?
- ‘Food for Thought’ Newsletter
- What are some problem chemicals in FCM?
- Current legislation on FCM
- Why is current legislation inadequate?
- Latest updates and proposed revisions to EU FCM legislation
- Five key principles for future FCM legislation
What is the problem?
Food packaging, factory equipment, food utensils – almost everything we eat has been in contact with one or more of these items, which are known as ‘Food Contact Materials’ (FCMs). There are thousands of chemicals in FCM that can potentially migrate into our food or drink. In Europe alone, some 8,000 chemicals can be used in food packaging and other FCM, and unfortunately many of these chemicals have been associated with harmful impacts on our health and can pollute the environment. EU rules on FCM chemicals are less protective than other EU chemical regulations, and need to be reformed. CHEM Trust first highlighted this issue in July 2014, and since then we have made progress in highlighting the problems – but there is a long way to go before they will be solved. Read our earlier contributions on the issue.
‘Food for Thought’ Newsletter
‘Food for Thought’ is a newsletter focusing specifically on food contact materials, published by CHEM Trust, HEAL and Zero Waste Europe. The newsletter shares key updates on FCM policy, ideas for revised FCM legislation and useful resources. If you’re interested in receiving it, please sign up here.
What are some problem chemicals in FCM?
Some of the thousands of chemicals that can be found in FCM or are used in their production are particularly concerning, including per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), bisphenols and phthalates. PFAS are often used in food contact materials, such as bakery bags and takeaway boxes, due to their grease and water-resistant properties. However, they can migrate from these materials into food or drink and pose a threat to human health. Some PFAS have been shown to be endocrine disruptors, interfere with the immune system, and promote the development of certain cancers. Bisphenols are a group of chemicals widely used in the production of polycarbonate plastics and resins, including in food packaging such as food cans and plastic containers. BPA is the most well-known and commonly used bisphenol and has been classified as an endocrine disrupting chemical (EDC) and toxic for reproduction. Companies are starting to use other bisphenols that raise similar concerns about toxicity. Phthalates are a group of chemicals often added to plastic packaging to increase their flexibility and durability. Some have been classified as toxic for reproduction or as EDCs.
Current legislation on FCM
Current EU legislation on FCM does not sufficiently protect the health of citizens. Chemicals used in FCM materials are regulated at EU level by a ‘Framework Regulation‘ which requires that FCMs fulfil a general safety requirement, that they “do not transfer their constituents to food in quantities which could endanger human health”. Beyond this general safety requirement other materials – such as paper and card, inks, coatings and adhesives – are not covered by a specific EU regulation. Only a handful of materials – such as plastics and ceramics – are actually regulated with specific safety limits for individual chemicals. This has led to a system of varying national rules, and varying levels of protection from harmful substances based on where you live. On May 20th 2020 the Commission published its Farm to Fork strategy with a clear commitment for a revised laws on chemicals in Food Contact Materials to be proposed by late 2022. This is a significant and long-awaited milestone in the progress towards new legislation on FCM. We will follow this process closely and continue to work with partner organisations to make sure that this new legislation protects human health and the environment. This autumn we are expecting that the Commission will publish a draft ‘inception impact assessment’ for consultation to kick off this revision. They have already created a website for this process.
Why is current legislation inadequate?
The lack of EU harmonised rules on many food contact materials and other holes in the system – including the continued use of substances of very high concern (SVHCs) in food packaging – means that public health is not properly protected. Recent investigations continue to find harmful chemicals in FCM, such as aromatic mineral oils in baby milk products. These investigations demonstrate that current legislation in not effective in keeping hazardous substances out of the materials that package our food and drink. The lack of action to improve the legislation at EU level has led to some Member States taking their own action. For example, France has banned Bisphenol A in all packaging, containers and utensils coming into contact with food, and Denmark has banned the use of per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS) in paper and cardboard food packaging. While such national action is good news for consumers living in those countries, it underlines the need for harmonised EU legislation, so that citizens are protected from harmful chemicals in FCM regardless of where they live. In March 2020 a group of scientists published a Consensus Statement expressing deep concern about harmful chemicals in food packaging. This was followed up by a declaration of concern signed by CHEM Trust and more than 170 other NGOs. A revision of EU legislation on FCM, that prioritises health and closes these toxic loopholes, is therefore essential.
Latest updates and proposed revisions to EU FCM legislation
- In December 2020, the Commission launched an Inception Impact Assessment (IIA) for consultation. CHEM Trust, Client Earth, HEAL, Health Care Without Harm, ECOS and Zero Waste Europe have prepared a two-page briefing with information on how to respond to the consultation and the key issues in the IIA.
- In May 2020 CHEM Trust published a blog on the EU Commission’s commitment to revision of the FCM legislation in the Fark to Fork strategy.
- CHEM Trust Executive Director Michael Warhurst presented a ‘Thought Starter’ for a new effective & protective approach to regulating chemicals in food contact materials at a Chemical Watch conference on 11-12th A Commission speaker at the event confirmed that they were likely to launch a substantial reform of the EU’s FCM laws.
- In December 2019, CHEM Trust wrote to the new EU Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Stella Kyriakides, emphasising the urgent need for reform of EU laws on chemicals in food contact materials. Her reply acknowledged that many stakeholders have concerns with the current regulations.
CHEM Trust has published many blogs on FCM, for example on the secrecy of the EU’s regulatory and policy processes in FCM area, and on relevant chemical groups such as phthalates, bisphenols and PFAS. Have a look at our earlier contributions on this issue.
Five key principles for future FCM legislation
We have coordinated the development of five key principles which should guide future EU legislation on chemicals in food contact materials, to ensure that consumers are protected from harmful chemicals. See the five key principles and the list of organisations supporting them here.
- A high level of protection of human health
- Thorough assessment of chemicals in materials in final articles
- Effective enforcement
- A clean circular economy based on non-toxic material cycles
- Transparency and participation
- You can read all our blogs on chemicals in food packaging and other food contact materials here.
- A recent report on PFAS in disposable food packaging and tableware used by popular fast food chains and takeaway restaurants across Europe.
- New infographics on how harmful chemicals in food contact materials are putting our health at risk, from the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL), CHEM Trust, Zero Waste Europe, BEUC (The European Consumer Organisation) and ClientEarth.
- Five new factsheets on food packaging materials and recycling from the Food Packaging Forum.
- 5 Key Principles for future EU legislation on Food Contact Materials. This briefing outlines the key principles that new EU regulation should be based on, supported by 25 health, environment, and consumer organisations.
- A recent report from Scottish NGO Fidra found that PFAS chemicals are present in a range of food packaging found in UK supermarkets and takeaways. On their website they have more information on PFAS in FCM and a petition to UK supermarkets.
- Time is ripe to repackage food safely: BEUC position on the regulation of Food Contact Materials. A position paper on food contact material regulation from BEUC, The European Consumer Organisation.
- ChemSec’s corporate PFAS movement calls on policy makers to regulate and phase-out non-essential uses of PFAS, a group of chemicals that can be found in some food contact materials. It has been joined by 13 companies, including Coop Denmark, H&M and Kingfisher.
- The Food Packaging Forum‘s factsheet on food packaging and human health, available in a number of languages.
- Food contact materials and chemical contamination: a briefing from HEAL.
- To illustrate how chemicals in food contact materials can impact people’s health, HEAL developed an infographic and a set of fact cards that are available in English, German, French, Czech and Spanish.
- Towards safe food contact materials in a toxic-free circular economy. Zero Waste Europe’s latest policy briefing outlines policy opportunities for reforming legislation on chemicals in food packaging for the better, outlining how legislation could ensure that food packaging is safe, toxic-free and reusable.
- A factsheet on food contact materials by BEUC, the European Consumer Organisation.