EU Commission evaluating options to legislate BPA in packaging

By Joseph James Whitworth

- Last updated on GMT

Five options were proposed by the EU Commission ranging from no action to a blanket ban
Five options were proposed by the EU Commission ranging from no action to a blanket ban

Related tags Food contact materials European union Bpa

The European Commission will propose new regulations on bisphenol A (BPA) next year due to uncertainty created by individual Member State laws and negative effect on consumer confidence.

It said a new specific migration limit (SML) is needed after an EFSA opinion in January ​lowered the Tolerable Daily Intake (TDI) from 50 to 4 μg/kg bw - a temporary (t-TDI), pending further studies.  BPA is subject to an SML of 0.6 mg/kg.

EFSA's scientific opinion shows the level of BPA that consumers of all ages are exposed to is well below the t-TDI and concludes there is no health concern for any age group from dietary exposure and low health concern for aggregated exposure, which includes sources other than food.

The Commission is looking at five options: no policy change, restricting BPA in plastic food contact materials, this restriction and introducing measures in coating and varnishes, the previous two options adding other food contact materials and a ban on BPA in food contact materials at EU level.

Denmark and Belgium have national bans on BPA in food contact materials for infants and young children; Sweden has a ban in coatings and varnishes for food contact materials for infants and young children and France has banned it in all food packaging, containers and utensils. 

However, the ban in France was lifted​ concerning the manufacture and export of BPA-based food contact materials out of the country but remained in place for items made for use inside France.

They are set out in a roadmap which said existing risk management measures do not reflect updated scientific advice and some Member States have different rules than those at EU level.

A consultation is expected with an outcome provisionally set for mid-2016.

Different national laws reduce flexibility

The Commission said differences between national laws, regulations and administrative provisions can hinder free movement of materials and articles, creating conditions of unequal and unfair competition.

“[In] practice EU industry using affected products has reported difficulties since there is a need to maintain flexibility in order to manage stock rotation and distribution throughout the EU, to avoid waste for example. The different national laws reduce this flexibility compared with those that only supply to EU Member States that do not have such national laws on BPA.”

Breast Cancer UK supports the need for better regulation and has called for it to be banned in food and drinks packaging.

Lynn Ladbrook, chief executive of Breast Cancer UK, said: “Whilst we welcome this legislative review of BPA in food packaging, it is vital that it is driven by the desire to protect public health and not simply by the desire to reduce the administrative burden for affected businesses.

“BPA should be phased out of food contact materials and replaced with safer alternatives – lowering the SML will only have a limited effect on exposure levels and ignores evidence that suggests that even very small doses of BPA may cause harm.”

The Commission said differing rules in EU Member States also present a confusing and challenging regulatory regime for third country exporters to follow.

“For example, imported canned fruit and vegetables are often brought to a centrally located EU country and from there they are distributed to other EU countries.

“Special production and distribution chains are now having to be established in order to specifically comply with individual national rules, introducing additional costs and practical challenges in the separate production and distribution of these goods.”

BPA is used in the manufacture of food contact materials such as plastic (polycarbonates) and coatings (epoxy resins).

Thoughts on potential options

It said no policy change does not respect the 2015 risk assessment from EFSA and does not achieve consistency in which plastic food contact materials are regulated.

Option two - Lowering the SML for BPA in plastic food contact materials - would provide the plastics food contact industry with one set of rules and create a level playing field across the EU and help clarify the legal situation for industry who would not have the practical and administrative burden of complying with different laws in different Member States

The plastics industry has indicated that levels of BPA migrating from plastic food contact materials are well below the current SML in all cases and it would therefore be possible for industry to be compliant with a new lower SML,” ​according to the document.

Gwynne Lyons, policy director at CHEM Trust, said the food contact industry is clearly out of control. 

With all the uncertainties that were highlighted by EFSA in their risk assessment, CHEM Trust considers that peoples’ exposure to BPA should to be eliminated where possible.  All types of food contact materials need to be regulated on an EU wide basis to ensure citizens across the EU are protected.”

Option three – adding BPA in coatings and varnishes at EU level to that of option two - would extend updated scientific knowledge to other materials which utilise BPA as a starting material as for plastics but contribute a greater proportion of overall dietary exposure.

Option four – adding other food contact materials that contain BPA to the previous two options – would include industries such as paper and board.

An SML set out in EU legislation for paper and board would be likely to increase costs and moreover cause difficulties in the supply chain for industry who report large variations in levels in paper and who already follow their own best practice based on current EU legislation for plastic food contact materials.

“The additional benefits that this option brings are likely to be minimal and disproportionate to the financial and administrative burden, particularly for the paper and board industry, which makes up approximately 40% of all food packaging, although this is not all from recycled material

The final option is a blanket ban but this ‘would not reflect the current scientific advice from EFSA’, said the Commission.

“A ban on BPA in food contact materials and in particular in coatings and varnishes would require industry to replace BPA with substances that in part at least do not function as well and have not been tested to the same standards.

“This option is unlikely to simplify the situation and would have a significant administrative and practical burden on industry. Enforcement of this option may also pose a significant challenge, for example where quantities of BPA may come from other sources and may still be present at low levels.”

BPA use in EU

The majority of food and beverage cans (around 80%) use BPA based epoxy-resin technology as a coating. The canning industry has 90 lines operational in the UK, Germany and Spain and France.

Around 50 billion beverage cans and 20 billion food cans are produced in the EU each year; in the latter case the estimated value of this market in 2010 was €30bn.

Despite EFSA’s assessment, a potential ban of BPA in food could be suggested, according to an AIMPLAS blog​.

“However, BPA ban is more a disadvantage than a benefit. BPA is an essential compound for high performance plastics and it has lots of significant applications; it is used in food packaging and machinery related to packaging.

“BPA ban would create additional costs to companies because of the switching of packaging and the substitution of the current production lines to new ones that can process other plastics; and it would also cause international trade difficulties, making almost impossible food import.  

“Its potential restriction would be also a problem because it has properties that other compounds do not have, such as high barrier against corrosion and oxidation, it is antimicrobial and has a long shelf-life; and there would be fewer choices in the market.”

The Commission said according to manufacturers of food contact materials that use BPA the introduction of national laws has not allowed sufficient time to evaluate and test alternative products.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) analyzed 252 canned food brands by 119 companies, between January and August 2014, to see which packed food in cans contained BPA​ .

For 90% of those packed food products for which BPA is used, substitution is under investigation with trials ongoing at different stages and for 10% there are no viable substitutions.

“The alternative options could for example hinder the performance of the packaging, the durability of the food and in turn potentially affect the organoleptic properties of the foodstuffs that the packaging is intended to protect.

“One significant impact reported by industry such as those manufacturing metal cans on the switch to using alternative substances is a decrease in the shelf life of many products, which if not addressed may in turn lead to increase in food waste. Industry has claimed that the switch to alternative substances may reduce the shelf-life of food in cans by 1-2 years.” ​   

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