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Scientists sound 'wake-up call' on hazardous chemicals in food packaging

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A leading group of international scientists has called for urgent action on the number of hazardous and toxic chemicals found in food packaging.

Previous research has revealed that chemicals found in food packaging can be linked to a wide variety of chronic diseases, including diabetes and cancer, with packaging made from recycled plastic posing particular concern.

The statement, written by 33 scientists and published in the journal Environmental Health, is based on 1200 peer reviewed papers, and suggests seven areas where urgent action is needed.

“Virtually everyone who eats food is exposed to food contact chemicals (FCCs), but some are known to be hazardous and many are untested or even completely unknown. This consensus statement is a wake-up call,” says Jane Muncke, managing director of the Food Packaging Forum and co-author of the statement.

“Chemical migration from food contact articles like packaging must be systematically addressed, and any hazardous substances removed – and not just replaced with other, less well studied chemicals that turn out to be regrettable substitutions.”

The researchers found that there are currently around 12,000 distinct chemicals used in food packaging, although many have not been adequately tested for potential toxicity. Whilst some FCCs are very well studied – such as BPA, which is commonly found in plastic bottles – there remains significant and concerning gaps in the data.

“It is a regulatory loophole that is currently little recognised beyond experts working in this specific field,” said co-author Dr Olwenn Martin, a lecturer in Global Challenges at Brunel University London.

“It is particularly important to highlight this issue now as efforts towards a circular economy and the design of recycling processes and recycled products redouble. Recycling processes may increase the levels of chemicals found in, and therefore migrating from, food packaging. This aspect needs to be considered at the design stage for solutions to be truly sustainable.”

The statement, which includes authors from as far afield as the Philippines, the USA and Sweden, sets out seven suggestions for improvement, including eliminating hazardous chemicals in food packaging, improved enforcement and the development of safe alternatives.

The letter, Scientific consensus statement on food contact chemicals and human health, is available now through the journal Environmental Health.

Co-author Dr Leonardo Trasande, from New York University, will be giving a talk on his book Sicker, Fatter, Poorer on March 30 at Brunel University London – book here

For further information on studying Global Challenges at Brunel, please visit brunel.ac.uk/global-challenges

Reported by:

Tim Pilgrim, Media Relations
+44 (0)1895 268965
tim.pilgrim@brunel.ac.uk