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Food for Thought
December 2021
Welcome to 'Food for Thought', a newsletter sharing key updates on food contact material (FCM) policy, ideas for revised FCM legislation and useful resources. There are thousands of chemicals in food contact materials that can potentially migrate into our food or drink, and many of these chemicals can harm our health and pollute the environment.

We need revised FCM laws that ensure all materials are safe and do not contain hazardous chemicals. Even though plastic food contact materials (FCMs) are specifically regulated in the EU there are still concerns that these materials can contain hazardous chemicals.

In this edition of Food for Thought, we are taking a deep-dive into the latest news on plastic, food packaging and health.
'Safe' levels of phthalates used in food packaging may not be protective of human health

Phthalates, a group of chemicals used to soften plastic packaging, can be found in our bodies and disrupt our endocrine system. A new study by the Food Packaging Forum and academic scientists shows that regulatory 'safe' limits for human exposure to phthalates set by national and international regulatory authorities (including the European Chemicals Agency - ECHA), may not adequately protect public health. Researchers found health effects for some of the chemicals at exposure levels that are up to 8,000 times lower than some regulatory limits.

The study, which analysed dozens of scientific papers, links exposure to phthalates with reproductive, neurodevelopmental, behavioural, hormonal, and metabolic health problems. It also emphasises the need for reassessing regulatory standards with up-to-date science and human epidemiological data.

On 19th November 2021, the Food Packaging Forum held a webinar titled "Is current phthalate regulation fit for purpose?", featuring expert speakers, including Dr. Maffini who led the study. The webinar provided an overview of and discussions about the latest science on the human health impacts of phthalates.

The good news is that the European Commission has recently amended the REACH authorisation list to include endocrine disrupting properties for four phthalates (DEHP, BBP, DBP and DIBP). This means that some previously exempted uses, such as the use of DEHP in food contact materials (FCMs), will now require authorisation - companies must get permission to use this phthalate.

Plasticisers in food contact materials: two consultations open for comments

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has launched consultations on its draft opinion on the identification and prioritisation for risk assessment of plasticisers used in food contact materials, and on its draft protocol for the exposure assessment of those substances that are prioritised.

These two documents are an important starting point for the future re-evaluation of the risks to public health from the presence of plasticisers such as phthalates, structurally similar substances, and replacement substances in food contact materials. 

Interested parties are invited to submit comments by 16th December 2021.

Food packaging made from bio-based polymers: should we worry about allergens?

In recent years there has been a growing interest in using disposable food packaging that is more environmentally friendly, such as food contact materials made from plant- and animal-based polymers. The most commonly used materials include polysaccharides such as wheat starch and the proteins in milk, eggs, soya and gluten. These materials have the advantage of being biodegradable; however, one of their disadvantages is that they can contain allergens which can migrate from the packaging to food.

Another disadvantage is that despite being bio-based, this packaging is disposable. To support the development of a circular economy, sustainable alternatives to single-use packaging must be developed and adopted.

It is important to note that the demand for bio-based materials is steadily increasing. Miriam Jiménez Serrallé, Food Technologist and Food Contact Specialist, commented about the challenges of potential allergens in packaging made from plant- and animal-based polymers.

The Understanding Packaging (UP) Scorecard - a tool to assess the sustainability impacts of common food packaging

The Understanding Packaging (UP) Scorecard offers the first-ever, free, comprehensive tool for assessing food packaging and foodware - such as plastic bottles, stainless steel bottles and aluminium cans - and informing sustainable purchasing decisions for these products based on the latest available science. The scorecard provides a resource for businesses as well as for environmental and human health advocates. Scores are provided for plastic pollution, chemicals of concern, climate, water use, sustainable sourcing, and recoverability.

The tool was developed through a collaboration of leading food service companies, NGOs and technical experts.

This newsletter is produced by a collaboration between CHEM Trust, the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) and Zero Waste Europe (ZWE). Together, we are working towards creating a toxic-free environment where nobody should have to worry about the presence of health-harming chemicals in the products that come into contact with our food.

CHEM Trust is a charity based in Germany and the UK, with the overarching aim to prevent synthetic chemicals from causing long term damage to wildlife or humans, by ensuring that chemicals which cause such harm are substituted with safer alternatives. (EU Transparency number: 27053044762-72)

The Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) is the leading not-for-profit organisation addressing how the environment affects human health in the European Union (EU) and beyond. HEAL works to shape laws and policies that promote planetary and human health and protect those most affected by pollution, and raise awareness on the benefits of environmental action for health. (EU Transparency number: 00723343929-96)

Zero Waste Europe (ZWE) is the European network of communities, local leaders, experts, and change agents working towards the elimination of waste in our society. We advocate for sustainable systems and the redesign of our relationship with resources, to accelerate a just transition towards zero waste for the benefit of people and the planet. (EU Transparency number: 47806848200-34)
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