Since the 1960s it is clear that exposure to certain chemicals during prenatal development can lead to irreversible and serious health effects. The tragic cases of thalidomide and diethylstilbestrol (DES) have taught us an important lesson: the placenta is not a barrier protecting from exogenous chemicals. On the contrary: the foetal life stage is extremely sensitive to various stressors, and permanent effects can result.
In addition, maternal malnutrition during pregnancy is a cause of heart disease in the adult offspring (Barker and Osmond 1986). With heart disease currently being the most common cause of death worldwide these findings are of very high relevance. The “Developmental Origins of Health and Disease” is an active scientific society advancing research in this field.
Pregnancy and the first two years of life offer an important opportunity for prevention of chronic disease. If certain chemical exposures are avoided during this period the risk for some chronic diseases can be reduced. Today there is sufficient scientific understanding from animal studies and epidemiological research warranting a more cautious approach to chemical exposures like those arising from food packaging during this stage of life (Barouki et al. 2012).
The principles of developmental exposure and high sensitivity of the foetus are widely known. Chemical risk assessment requires pre-market developmental toxicity testing for chemicals that migrate from food packaging at increased concentrations: in the EU testing is required for migration above 5 mg migrant per kg foodstuff. In the US, the corresponding threshold is exposure of the general population to more than 3 mg of a food contact substance per Person per day.
Endocrinologists and other scientists support screening of all food packaging substances for hormonal activity, regardless of their exposure levels.