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Legislation

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EU food contact material rules under scrutiny

ENDS reports that MEPs and the European Commission are both examining how the EU’s patchy regulation of food contact materials (FCMs) could be improved, a European Parliament workshop heard on Tuesday.

The European Commission will receive a study from its Joint Research Centre in the coming weeks detailing the current situation with regard to regulation, including national regulation, of FCMs, an official said.

The study will also detail whether the principle of mutual recognition of product licences across member states is being respected, and examine which materials are not subject to detailed rules. Based on the report the Commission will decide whether there is a problem it needs to solve.

The EU’s 2004 framework regulation on FCMs sets out principles that apply to all materials that come into contact with food. Rules are set at EU level for plastic and recycled plastic FCMs but there are few EU rules for other materials, particularly paper and board. Where there are no EU rules the framework regulation empowers member states to adopt their own.

The Commission official noted that the plastic regulation ensures good functioning of the EU internal market but causes an enormous amount of work for industry, national regulators and the Commission because it is very detailed so requires constant updating.

A representative of the Swiss Food Safety Authority said there are around 100,000 substances that can migrate into food from FCMs, including both intentionally added substances and impurities. Only a fraction of these are regulated in the EU, meaning there is a major gap between the framework regulation’s ambition and reality.

MEP Christel Schaldemose (S&D), who is leading work on forthcoming European Parliament recommendations on food contact materials, said her report would tackle the gap between the legislation and the real level of risk assessment. She will recommend either better risk assessment or new regulation.

Brussels to regulate BPA in cans

ENDS reports that The European Commission will propose a limit on the widely used endocrine-disrupting chemical BPA as a coating in metal food cans and screw caps, an official said on Tuesday.

At present EU law only regulates BPA in plastic food containers, and the only EU restriction is for BPA in baby bottles. But it is also widely used as a coating in metal food cans and in screw caps.

BPA, low level exposure to which is ubiquitous in Europe, is the best known hazardous chemical found in food packaging. France banned BPA in all food contact materials last year to protect consumers.

The EU is under pressure at the World Trade Organization to tidy up its patchwork of approaches to regulating BPA. If new EU-level rules were introduced, they would override national restrictions such as France’s BPA ban, the Commission suggested in a ‘policy roadmap’ last year.

A Commission official told a European Parliament workshop on Tuesday that the Commission was working on a draft measure based on option 3 in the roadmap: to “modify legislative restrictions for BPA in plastic food contact materials at EU level and introduce measures for BPA in coatings and varnishes at EU level”.

This option would see a specific migration limit set for the presence of BPA in coatings and varnishes based on the safe intake limit established by the European Food Safety Authority. The existing restriction on the use of BPA in plastic food contact materials would also be amended.

The workshop heard that replacing materials containing BPA with safe alternatives is proving difficult. A representative of Danish supermarket chain Coop said many suppliers are replacing BPA with other bisphenol chemicals that have more or less the same effect on health and the environment.

Anne Marie Vinggaard of the Danish Technical University noted that BPA is also present in recycled paper.

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