The 7th Food Packaging Forum (FPF) workshop on “Improving the chemical safety of food contact articles: Accelerating science and innovation” took place on October 24, 2019, in Zurich, Switzerland. The talk by Konrad Grob from the Kantonales Labor Zürich, Switzerland, explained why the re-evaluation of the EU food contact material (FCM) regulation is needed, and he suggested several steps that should be taken to improve the situation with regulation and enforcement of FCM safety in the EU.
Currently, the European Commission (EC) is re-evaluating its framework Regulation (EC) 1935/2004 (FPF reported). The first step included a “broad consultation” carried out by Ecorys (FPF reported), the full report from which is expected soon. The shortcomings highlighted by the consultation include “gaps in implementation and weaknesses in enforcement” and “reservations about the underlying approach focusing on starting substances,” because it tends to neglect the assessment of non-intentionally added substances (NIAS). Further, the need for “more harmonization at EU level” was expressed by many stakeholders.
Grob emphasized that the original intentions of the framework regulation to provide positive lists for all FCM types are “not feasible,” because “authorization of all substances used is unrealistic,” and, further, NIAS need to be addressed as well. In addition, he said that the official control authorities are currently “lacking knowledge of what to check” and “lacking adequate measures in case of non-compliance.” This results in a “large gap between legal requirements and reality,” with “hardly any FCM compl[ying] with safety requirements” specified by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). As an illustration, he provided examples of FCM samples demonstrating the existence of a diverse array of unidentified and hence unassessed compounds.
Next, Grob offered his personal set of ideas for improvement (FPF reported). First, he claimed that “self-control by industry is the only way,” thus, “all migrating substances except those officially evaluated/listed must be assessed by the producers.” He emphasized that “industry must no longer wait for authorities telling them what to do and how to do it,” and further suggested that the FCMs should be “designed for safety” starting from the raw material on, and substances of potential concern should be “filtered out.” As a result, “regulation should focus on implementing and supporting self-assessment by the producers,” and “focus should shift from pre-use assessment to control of assessments by industry.”
Second, Grob called for “better use of data” through “better listing.” He suggested that FCMs should not be compartmentalized into “17 types” anymore, because this separation “did not prove suitable.” Instead, “all lists with adequately approved entries should be combined.”
Further, Grob said that “requirements must be implementable,” which could mean that “regulation should adjust rules,” particularly with regard to EFSA’s recommendations and role in the overall process. To enable the suggested system changes, there should be “strong drivers for implementation.” These should rely on the creation of a “list of approved materials/applications (intermediate and final products),” which can be used by the packers and the food industry to select approved FCMs. Also, in order to streamline the process, Grob suggested to establish “certified private bodies evaluating against EFSA guidelines,” which should be “guided and checked by authorities.”
The success of his suggested regulatory scheme depends on “effective enforcement,” which should focus on compliance work of producers, supported by adequate documentation. Grob noted that there should be a “European collaboration” and “specialized document collection centers” to support the controls. To facilitate the transition to the new system, “work plans” should be developed by the industry. Grob explained that “the majority of FCMs do not comply with present rules,” but “authorities cannot remove all non-compliant FCMs from the market.” However, “compliance work may need years to complete.” Therefore, in order for a currently “non-compliant FCM” to be “tolerated” and allowed to remain on the market, industry should “submit a work plan to close gaps,” which should describe “the gap and planned work with timeline.” The role of the authorities would then be to “approve the work plans and check progress.”
Biedermann M. and Grob K. (2018). “Advantages of comprehensive two-dimensional gas chromatography for comprehensive analysis of potential migrants from food contact materials.” Analytica Chimica Acta 1057: 11-17.
Koni Grob (2017). “Listing approved substances and materials for food contact in Europe: ideas for a better use and further evolvement of the present system. A contribution for discussion.” Journal of Consumer Protection and Food Safety 12: 271-281.
Koni Grob (2019). “The role of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in a better European regulation of food contact materials – some proposals.” Food Additives & Contaminants: Part A (published online September 3, 2019).
Koni Grob (2017). “The European system for the control of the safety of food contact materials needs restructuring: a review and outlook for discussion.” Food Additives & Contaminants: Part A 34: 1643-1659.
Koni Grob (2014). “Work plans to get out of the deadlock for the safety assurance of migration from food contact materials? A proposal.” Food Control 46: 312-318.