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Commission studying the problem of chemicals in packaging – but will the new Commissioner act on the results?

Back in July, worrying new research on hazardous chemicals in food packaging led to CHEM Trust writing a letter to the current EU Commissioner for Health, Tonio Borg – more details in this blog post.

We are particularly concerned about gaps in regulation for chemicals in non-plastic food contact materials (cardboard, ink, glue etc), and the fact that the new research found that many chemicals with hazardous properties – such as endocrine disrupting chemicals – were in use in food contact packaging.

The Head of the Commissioner Borg’s Cabinet of advisors, Joanna Darmanin, responded to our letter towards the end of August – you can read her response here.

The letter admits that the legislation in this area does not fully cover all types of food contact materials:

I would like to underline that Regulation (EC) No 1935/2004 specifies that food contact materials must not transfer their constituents to food in quantities that could endanger human health. This principle is directly applicable in all Member States. Specific EU legislation is in place not only for plastics but also for regenerated cellulose films (Directive 2007/42/EC), ceramics (Directive 84/500/EEC). active and intelligent materials (Regulation EC 450/2009″) and recycled plastics (Regulation EC 282/2008).

Yet the concept of food contact materials covers many other materials such as glass, metal, paper, adhesives, printing inks, coatings etc., produced by very diverse industries adapted to at times distinct national rules. The Commission’s Joint Research Centre has recently agreed to analyse the situation in detail. The resulting study should be finalised within a year. It will help to decide which action at EU level will be appropriate.

This response backs our view that the EU regulations are not properly protecting us from exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals.

It’s good to know that the Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) are studying the chemicals in packaging problem – but how long will this really take and will the Commission act on the results?

We believe that the Commission needs to act rapidly to properly protect our health, through:

  • Ensuring that all food packaging materials can only contain chemicals that are approved for food contact use
  • Acting to get endocrine disrupting chemicals out of all food packaging

A new Commission is approaching

A new European Commission team is now preparing to take over from the existing Commissioners. Countries have nominated their new candidates for Commissioners, and incoming Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker last week published his proposal for which jobs these candidates should get.

There is a lot of controversy about President Juncker’s proposed re-structuring of Commission, and over some of the candidates – see, for example, the letter from the main environmental groups (the ‘Green 10’) which particularly focusses on the apparent downgrading of EU environmental policy. CHEM Trust fully supports the Green 10’s concerns. President Juncker also has a strong focus on ‘better regulation’ – which is often interpreted as ‘deregulation’, yet regulation is vital to protect our health and that of the environment, and it also helps create innovation.

Vytenis P. Andriukaitis, from Lithuania, has been nominated for the role of the new Commissioner for Health and Food Safety. President Juncker has sent him a letter with Juncker’s view of the priorities for this role – and it doesn’t mention packaging or chemicals. We disagree!

The European Parliament will now get the chance to question the nominated Commissioners in hearings, and they must vote to approve them all before they can start their new jobs. The Parliament can vote to reject all the Commissioners, though in the past they have threatened to do this in order to get one or two of the nominees replaced.

Key questions for a new Commissioner for Health & Food Safety:

Will the new Health Commissioner work to better protect us from hazardous chemicals in food packaging, by acting to:

  • Ensure that all food packaging materials can only contain chemicals that are approved for food contact use?
  • Get endocrine disrupting chemicals out of all food packaging?