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Public Consultation Launched, Seeking Feedback, with a View to Evaluating EU Law on Food Contact Materials

The Commission’s notice initiating the consultation notes that food contact materials (FCMs) are all materials that come into contact with food, including packaging, kitchenware and tableware, and the materials used in professional food manufacturing, preparation, storage and distribution. FCMs may also include articles which may foreseeably come into contact with food.

The legislation on food contact material currently provides a harmonised legal EU framework for FCMs by setting out the general principles of safety of FCMs, as well as rules on labelling, compliance documentation, and traceability. In other words, the EU law on food contact materials provides the basis for securing the protection of human health, and the interests of consumers, and to ensure the effective functioning of the internal market as regards the placing on the market of FCMs.

The consultation is intended to be part of the European Commission evaluation of the EU legislation on food contact materials. The evaluation aims to assess to what extent the current EU legislative framework for food contact materials is fit for purpose, delivering as expected. It will hopefully identify any unexpected impacts or issues as a consequence of the current legislation. In addition, the evaluation will show whether the objectives and tools of the FCM legislation are still relevant and coherent.

The feedback received from the consultation will be taken into account in the evaluation. Once the evaluation of the FCM legislation is completed, a synopsis report of all consultation activities will be published.

Last month, the charity organisation CHEM Trust welcomed the public consultation, commenting that the EU’s laws in the field of FCMs are largely ineffective, as they do not adequately protect public health. This is because several materials, including paper, card, inks and glues, are not yet subject to EU harmonisation; yet, where a harmonised law does exist – as is the case for FCM from plastic – it is considered to be weak.

CHEM Trust has itself reported in the past on coloured napkins leaching carcinogenic chemicals, pizza boxes contaminated with Bisphenol A (BPA), and microwave-popcorn packaging containing persistent PFAS chemicals which, it is said, accumulate in the blood. Pursuant to CHEM Trust’s own protests, the European Parliament approved a very critical report on the regulatory regime, back in October 2016.

As for the EU legal framework, general requirements for all food contact materials are laid down in Framework Regulation 1935/2004. Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) for materials and articles intended to come in contact with food is described in Regulation 2023/2006.

There are also EU regulations for specific materials: ceramics, regenerated cellulose film, plastics, recycled plastics and active and intelligent materials. Food contact materials must not transfer their components into the foods in unacceptable quantities (this is referred to as migration). Thus, during contact there must not be migration of unsafe levels of chemical substances from the material to the food.

The most comprehensive measure is EU Regulation 10/2011 on plastic materials and articles intended to come into contact with food. The Regulation, applicable directly in all EU Member States, outlines the rules on the composition of plastic FCM, including the establishment of a Union List of substances that are permitted for use in the manufacture of plastic FCM. It assigns a specific number to each substance. Regulation 10/2011 sets out rules to determine the compliance of plastic materials and specifications, as well as restrictions on the use of these substances. Restrictions include migration limits which specify the maximum amount of substances allowed to migrate to food. The total migration of substances from a plastic to a food may not exceed 60 mg/kg food.

As recycling is becoming more common in manufacturing, EU Regulation 282/2008 sets out rules for recycled plastic, given that such plastic may be contaminated with unknown substances.

When there is no specific EU legislation, Member States may establish national measures. There are, for instance, no specific EU measures on paper and board, metal, glass or printing inks. Some Member States therefore have their own rules in this regard.

Hong Kong sellers that are interested in participating in the public consultation and providing feedback should respond to the European Commission’s questionnaire. More information on how to do this can be found on the Commission’s website titled Evaluation of Food Contact Materials (FCM).

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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