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The first publicly available database providing an overview of the chemicals that can be used in the processing of food contact materials and articles was released today [1], accompanied by a peer-reviewed scientific article [2]. The database has been compiled by a group of eminent scientists in the field, based on their analysis of 67 relevant and publicly available lists, and suggests that 12,285 chemical substances could possibility be used worldwide to make such materials and articles.

Highlights of the database include the following:

  • Out of the 12,285 chemicals identified, 608 hold hazardous properties and are considered by researchers to be priorities for further assessment and/or substitution from use in food contact materials and articles.
  • An additional 1,411 substances are also highlighted as being of concern, based on the analysis of predictive hazard data such as in silico modelling or literature analysis, and despite these not being covered by official hazard classifications at present time.
  • For over a quarter of the substances identified in the database, no hazard information is available from the resources reviewed, suggesting a concerning safety data gap.

This scientific database illustrates the impressive work that independent scientists have been carrying for years in an effort to better characterise the properties of the numerous chemicals at play in materials and articles coming in contact with our food, and their potential migration therein. In contrast, the regulatory pace has been too slow.

Natacha Cingotti, Senior Policy Officer on Health and Chemicals at the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL), said: “This database unfortunately confirms that today many of the substances that can be used in materials and articles coming in contact with our food are hazardous, that critical safety data are missing for regulatory assessments, and therefore it points to the urgent need to upgrade the European regulatory framework for food contact materials. The implementation of the recently agreed Chemicals Strategy for sustainability and the forthcoming revision of the regulation must address these issues.”

The database is being released at a critical point in time from both scientific and regulatory points of views. In March this year, a scientific consensus statement on the impacts of food contact chemicals on human health pointed to the reduction of exposure to such chemicals as a prevention tool to the development of chronic diseases [3] [4].

Moreover, in the context of the European Green Deal, the European Commission has committed to reducing human exposure to chemicals of concern, partly through its recently released Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability as well as through the revision of the framework regulation on food contact materials. An inception impact assessment on the latter is expected to be launched by the end of 2020 [5].

Contact:

For a policy comment or to be put in touch with the authors, contact Natacha Cingotti, Senior Policy Officer on Health and Chemicals at HEAL, natacha@env-health.org

Notes to the editor:

[1] Groh K et al. (2020) “FCCdb: Food Contact Chemicals database.” doi:10.5281/zenodo.3240108 https://zenodo.org/record/4296944#.X8SrdM1Kg2w 

[2] Groh K et al. (2020) “Overview of intentionally used food contact chemicals and their hazards.” Environment International, doi.org/10.1016/j.envint.2020.106225 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412020321802?via%3Dihub

[3] Muncke J et al. (2020) “Impacts of food contact chemicals on human health: a consensus statement.” Environmental Health, doi:10.1186/s12940-020-0572-5

[4] To illustrate how chemicals in food wrappings can impact people’s health, HEAL has  developed an infographic to highlight why we are concerned https://www.env-health.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/ChemicalsAndFoodPackaging-Infographic-print.pdf

For more information about HEAL’s position on food contact materials, visit https://www.env-health.org/how-the-chemicals-in-food-contact-materials-are-putting-our-health-at-risk/

[5] https://ec.europa.eu/info/law/better-regulation/have-your-say/initiatives/12497-Revision-of-EU-rules-on-food-contact-materials

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. Find out more on https://www.env-health.org/