Researchers agree that more measures are needed to secure food packaging
A group of 33 international scientists has written a consensus statement urging decision makers in government, industry and civil society to reduce exposure to harmful chemicals that are present in food packaging and any other food contact materials.
Hazardous chemicals that can transfer from these materials into food are associated with chronic diseases such as diabetes, obesity, cancer and neurological disorders, like ADHD. The issue is especially relevant for recycled materials and plastics alternatives that are being promoted as more environmentally friendly in response to plastic pollution concerns.
The peer-reviewed consensus statement is based on more than 1,200 peer-reviewed scientific studies and highlights seven specific areas in need of improvement, including: elimination of hazardous chemicals in food contact articles, development of safer alternatives, modernizing risk assessment, consideration of endocrine disruption, addressing mixture toxicity, improving enforcement and establishing a multi-stakeholder dialogue to find practical solutions.
“There is a lot of talk about plastics and environmental problems, especially littering and microplastics, but it is extremely important that we also discuss chemicals found in plastics. If you want to talk about how plastic affects our health, we already know that many of the chemicals used today have negative effects”, says Bethanie Carney Almroth, ecotoxicologist at the University of Gothenburg and one of the authors of the article.
Jane Muncke, managing director of the Food Packaging Forum and head-author of the statement says:
“Virtually everyone who eats food is exposed to food contact chemicals, but some are known to be hazardous and many are untested or even completely unknown. This consensus statement is a wake-up call. Chemical migration from food contact articles like packaging must be systematically addressed, and any hazardous substances removed – and not just replaced with other, less well studied chemicals that turn out to be regrettable substitutions, like BPS that replaced BPA. Getting the toxics out is essential as society moves toward a circular economy and increases the use of recycled or alternative materials.”
The authors of the consensus statement analyzed existing lists of food contact chemicals (FCCs) issued by legislators, industry and NGOs worldwide. They found that almost 12,000 distinct chemicals are potentially in use in the manufacture of food contact materials today, and that many have not been tested adequately for toxicity.
While there is a great amount of information for some of the most well studied FCCs such as bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates, thousands of reported FCCs lack data on their hazardous properties and/or level of human exposure – but these are critical data for determining human health risks. Furthermore, there is an unknown, but presumably even higher number of non-intentionally added substances present in food packaging (e.g., contaminants, degradation products) that have the potential to migrate into food, especially from recycled materials.
“The goal of recycling more materials and establishing a circular economy is hindered by chemicals. We do not know which chemical substances are present in different products and therefore cannot use recycled plastic safely. We need to phase out problematic chemicals”, says Bethanie Carney Almroth.
The consensus statement is published open access journal Environmental Health: doi:10.1186/s12940-020-0572-5
Co-authors and contacts at the University of Gothenburg:
Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences Center for Future Chemical Risk Assessment and Strategies
Mobil: +46 73 445 99 96
Bethanie Carney Almroth
Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences and Centre for Collective Action Research
Mobil: +46 73 226 15 69
Muncke J et al. (2020) “Impacts of food contact chemicals on human health: a consensus statement.” Environmental Health, available online from 3 March 2020: doi:10.1186/s12940-020-0572-5
The pdf file can be provided in advance by request: firstname.lastname@example.org
Groh K et al. (2020) “FCCdb: Food Contact Chemicals database. v2.0.” doi:10.5281/zenodo.3240108