Under new proposals put forward today by two official agencies, Swedish food processors and packaging companies would have to submit plans by the end of the year on how they intend to substitute current epoxy linings in cans with BPA-free alternatives – or get such a roadmap from their suppliers.
Importers and manufacturers would also be obliged to outline when such alternatives could come to market and be available to the food industry. They would also be required to deliver an assessment on the likely impact of the move on food production and manufacturing.
The report by Swedish Chemical Agency (KEMI) and the National Food Administration (SLV) said exposure to BPA was widespread but that sources of overall exposure were not well-known.
However, it added: “Migration of BPA has been shown primarily for materials coming into contact with food (polycarbonate plastic and the inside surface of epoxy resins in metal packaging for canned food and beverages).”
The proposal appears to support fears voiced recently by plastics and metal packaging trade groups that the EU ban on BPA in baby bottles could trigger a domino effect leading to wider prohibition of the chemical in food packing.
In a comment that was typical of industry concern, the UK Metal Packaging Manufacturing Association said: “Any prohibition, however focussed, will likely lead to an escalation of action into other packaging areas, such as epoxy-based coatings for metal packaging.”
The can lining recommendations outlined today form part of a wide-ranging joint report aimed at slashing human exposure to BPA. Last August, the Swedish Government commissioned the work to investigate the need for a national ban on the chemical in certain products.
The food and chemical agencies acknowledged that the European Union ban on BPA in polycarbonate baby bottles last November had changed the immediate focus of the assignment and said that exposure to the chemical among children was “estimated to be much less than a year ago”.
Under EU rules, a country can take unilateral action where no harmonised regulations exist to introduce a national ban on the grounds of a serious need to protect human health. KEMI and SLV said the “current state of knowledge does not establish any serious risk”, which is why it had not advocated a wholesale ban.
But it said “problems with BPA remain” because of continuous low-level exposure to the substance among the general population. Scientific uncertainty, particularly over the effect of the chemical on foetuses and young babies, justified a precautionary approach, it said.
Thermal paper and pipes
Other measures in the report include continuous monitoring of the phasing out of BPA in polycarbonate plastics and pushing for a switch to non-BPA thermal paper of the kind used in shop receipts.
The effect of BPA migration from renovated plastic water pipes, plastic toys and the labelling of medical equipment to protect premature babies from exposure to the chemical should also be considered, urged the report.