Key takeaways from our editorial director

Food Contact Regulations Europe 2020 took place in Brussels on 11-12 February, and gave professionals the chance to get the latest updates and developments on global food contact regulations. Here are some valuable takeaways from this year's conference from our editorial director.

DG Sante is pressing ahead with its evaluation of EU food contact regulations, but the evaluation period has been extended to 2022

The European Commission’s Staff Working Document (SWD) presenting the findings had been expected early this year, but DG Sante official Bastiaan Schupp told delegates to the conference that the Commission now intends to conduct an impact assessment in parallel with continued work on the SWD. He outlined a tentative approach and timeline which said:

  • –  The Commission may publish the impact assessment and the SWD together in the Q1 2022. 
  • –  The impact assessment process will start with the publication of an Inception Impact Assessment in mid-2020. This will seek comments on policy options and the Commission’s summary of what the key problems are. Doing nothing, and developing specific new legislation are “likely” to be among these options.
  • –  This will be followed in Q4 2020-Q4 2021 by the main impact assessment of the various policy options, before the evaluation of the regulations and impact assessment results, are published, probably together, in Q1 2022.

Mr Schupp also gave a heads up on forthcoming changes to the EU plastics Regulation. The text of the 15th amendment is nearly finalised, he said, and entry into force is expected in Q2 2020, followed by the 16th amendment in Q3.

Representatives of different food contact materials (FCM) sectors agree there are significant problems with the current EU regulatory framework and DG Sante accepts that it is clear that industry and NGOs have major concerns.

The key issues include:

  • –  the lack of harmonised EU rules for food contact materials and mixtures other than plastics;
  • –  the need to ensure prioritisation and coherence with other legislation regarding the regulation of substances that migrate from FCMs;
  • –  Efsa is struggling to cope with its workload;
  • –  the plastics Regulation shows that the positive list approach is too slow and would be impractical if extended to, for example, printing inks; and
  • –  authority enforcement of the existing legislation is patchy and inconsistent.

The public backlash against plastics and the Commission’s desire to boost the recycling of materials will increasingly impact policy on the recycling of plastic FCMs

Presentations by several speakers, including Jürgen Towara, partner at consultancy ERM, and Edward Kosior, managing director of plastics recycling plant design firm Nextek, made it clear that the issue of contamination and non-intentionally added substances (NIAS) as a barrier to recycling food contact plastics is likely to become more important. Factors include:

  • –  although Efsa has assessed many recycling processes for plastics intended to be used as FCMs, there is no mandatory legal requirement for recyclers to use an authorised process and the Commission has yet to publish any EU Decisions officially granting authorisation to the applicant;
  • –  PET is still the only plastic for which Efsa has signed off recycling processes as safe for direct contact FCM use. There are none for ldPE, lldPE, hdPE or PP.; and
  • –  the 2019 single-use plastics Directive sets consumption reduction targets for some plastic food contact articles, and sets design requirements and market restrictions for others.

The US has a very different approach to regulating FCMs compared to the EU

Martin Klatt, head of product stewardship for BASF’s dispersions and resins business in Germany, favourably compared the US approach to that in the EU, highlighting key differences that include:

  • –  The US does not regulate food contact materials: instead it regulates substances that migrate from packaging into food (termed ‘food additives’).  Substances that do not migrate are therefore not regulated.
  • –  While EU regulations are based on migration the US FDA data requirements are based on exposure
  • –  The applicant (petitioner) for a food contact notification is rewarded as the notification is proprietary and only applies to them.

China and Japan are forging ahead with their FCM standards and regulations

In contrast to the EU, China continues to add to, and revise where necessary, its raft of standards on specific types of FCMs, as well as general standards on areas such as migration tests and manufacturing practice.

Japan is revising its Food Sanitation Act and moving from a negative list to a positive list approach. The first materials to be covered this way will be synthetic resins. The positive list for these is due in June.

Brexit may herald the end of mutual recognition in the UK

Because harmonised regulation does not exist for most FCMs, member states can mutually recognise each other’s national rules on specific food contact materials, thus allowing goods to circulate freely within the single market. But when the current Brexit transition period ends the UK will cease to be an EU member state and therefore the mutual recognition principle will cease to apply to the UK – unless trade deal negotiations agree to allow it to continue.

Reserve your place for Food Contact Regulations Europe 2021

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Geraint Roberts
Editorial Director
Chemical Watch