A total of 175 chemicals known to be harmful for health are used in food packaging on both sides of the Atlantic, in the European Union countries and the United States, according to a study published by a Swiss non-governmental organization.
As the study authors point out, the use of many of these substances, which are linked to cancer, hormonal disorders or infertility in other products has already been limited or is to be prohibited. However, these regulations do not concern food packaging due to gaps in legislation.
Researchers of the Food Packaging Forum, a non-governmental organization in Switzerland, compared two lists of hazardous chemicals – the so-called ‘Substitute it now!‘ list, also known as Sin, and the TEDX list of endocrine disruptors – with three official lists of substances allowed to be used in the manufacture of food packaging, in particular, the ESCO Working Group list of non-plastic food contact substances by European Food Safety Authority, Annex I of EC 10/2011 which includes the allowed plastic food contact substances and the so-called Pew list of food additives authorized in the United States.
As noted, about 175 chemicals contained in the Sin and the TEDX lists (such as phthalates, organotins and benzophenones) were identified in at least one, or even in all of the official lists of substances allowed to be used for food packaging.
The majority of these chemicals meet, as stated, the criteria set by the European regulation concerning the registration, evaluation, authorization and restriction of chemicals (REACH) to be qualified as “Substances of Very High Concern” (SVHC). 21 of them have even been officially recognized as substances of very high concern by the European Chemicals Agency, while six are to be gradually restricted by EU under REACH.
In their study, published in the journal ‘Food Additives and Contaminants: Part A’, the researchers point out that the process of the gradual restriction of the substances of very high concern under REACH will not be directly connected with the chemicals used in food packaging, as they are regulated by separate legislation. “As a consequence, chemicals with highly toxic properties may legally be used in the production of food contact materials, but not in other consumer products such as computers, textiles and paints even though exposure through food contact materials may be far more relevant,” note the researchers.
Lead researcher of the study and managing director of the Food Packaging Forum Dr Jane Muncke said that the role of this study is not to analyze the ways in which the loopholes in legislation can be avoided, but to highlight the issue. “That is one thing we are highlighting, that currently these regulations don’t cover food packaging,” she said.
Since it is difficult to restrict the substances that are already authorized, the researchers recommend food manufacturers to refrain from using hazardous substances in their products and replace them with safer alternatives. “From a consumer perspective, it is certainly unexpected and undesirable to find chemicals of concern being intentionally used in FCMs, and thus it seems appropriate to replace substances case-by-case with inherently safer alternatives,” said Dr Muncke.
The best way to ensure that you avoid these chemicals ending up in your body would be to steer clear of packaged food all together. The alternative? Trusting the government and the food producers to protect you.
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