Hazardous chemicals in food packaging make harmful consequences ‘highly likely’

388 ‘substances of concern’ need to be phased out
06 July 2022 , By Steve Smethurst

A new report warns that plastic food packaging contains hundreds of chemicals that cause cancer, infertility and gene mutations. The findings, published in the Journal of Hazardous Materials, come from the Zurich-based charitable foundation, the Food Packaging Forum. 

It found 388 individual ‘substances of concern’, including 352 known to be carcinogenic, mutagenic and toxic to reproduction. A further 22 were hormone- or endocrine-disrupting chemicals and 32 were said to endanger health with persistence and bioaccumulation.

More than 12,000 chemicals have been identified for use in food-contact materials and there is a ‘much higher’ number of non-intentionally added substances. Concern already exists around phthalates and bisphenols, for example.

The Food Packaging Forum has called for the 388 substances of concern to be phased out. “We found many food-contact chemicals of concern (FCCoCs) in plastics, printing inks and paper and board – these materials have a propensity to migrate,” said Lisa Zimmermann, the organisation’s Scientific Communication Officer. “For example, certain conditions, such as high temperatures, favour the migration of chemicals into food. Therefore, heating food in plastic containers or consuming plastic-packaged hot fast foods are to be avoided.

“The chemicals that the EU Chemical Strategy for Sustainability (CSS) considers the most harmful may be used intentionally in food contact materials. For 97 of them, scientific studies have demonstrated that they can be ingested by humans together with the food.

“We can only speculate, but considering the increasing prevalence of cancers and other chronic diseases in the human population that are associated with hazardous chemical exposures, such as infertility or diabetes, food contact materials are clearly an entirely avoidable exposure source to hazardous chemicals and urgently need to be addressed.

“The presence of carcinogens, mutagens, or chemicals toxic to reproduction, as well as endocrine disruptors in food packaging, is even more troubling since the entire human population, including the most sensitive population groups (the unborn, children, the chronically ill), are ubiquitously exposed to these chemicals daily.”

Zimmerman added: “It would be great for the UK to align with these CSS targets and prohibit the 388 FCCoCs that we identified in our study.”

The UK’s CHEM Trust is also calling for the most hazardous chemicals to be banned in consumer products, including food contact materials, by 2030. Head of advocacy Dr Anna Watson said: “This study adds to the large body of evidence that food contact materials in Europe can and do contain harmful chemicals.

“Reforming the EU legislation on food contact materials has to be a priority for the successful delivery of the EU Commission’s Green New Deal, if we are to protect human health and the wider environment from these hazardous chemicals.”


Image credit: Shutterstock

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