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SVI 26. February 2024 0 Comments

The EU Commission announced on On February 9, the European Commission presented a draft regulation for a Europe-wide ban on bisphenol A (BPA) and other bisphenols in food contact materials. Economic operators, member states and EU citizens have until March 8 to comment on the draft. Adoption by the EU Commission is expected to take place in the first quarter of this year.

The draft is based on the publication of an opinion by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in April 2023. As reported, the EFSA had reduced the provisional value for the tolerable daily intake (TDI) of bisphenol A from 2015 by a factor of 20,000 from 4 micrograms (µg) per kg of body weight per day to 0.2 nanograms per kg of body weight per day. The authority had previously concluded that dietary exposure to BPA poses a health risk to consumers in all age groups (see EUWID VP 16/2023).

Ban mainly affects metal packaging

The planned ban concerns the intentional use of the chemical in the production of certain food contact materials. BPA is used in the production of epoxy resins, which form the basis for paints and coatings used by the metal packaging industry to protect the inside and outside of cans. In closures such as crown corks, bisphenol A is found in the inner lacquer under the sealant.

The chemical is also used in certain plastics such as polycarbonate and polysulfone. Due to its diverse chemical properties, BPA is also found in other materials that are part of finished food contact materials. These include printing inks, adhesives and rubbers.

According to the EU Commission, the ban on the use of BPA represents a “significant departure from the conventional chemistry” that companies have relied on for many decades to produce food contact materials for many different applications, such as those currently widely used in the Union market. This applies in particular to paints and coatings for metal packaging, for which there are several hundred possible formulations of BPA-based epoxy resins, depending on the application. Therefore, the transition to food contact materials and articles that are not manufactured using BPA must be designed in such a way that interruptions in the food supply chain are avoided.

Longer transition periods for canned fruit, vegetables and fish

Many companies, particularly in the metal packaging market, have already proactively prepared for the move away from BPA and have already initiated conversions. In order to give companies time to complete this process and comply with the provisions of the regulation, they are to be granted a transitional period of 18 months after the regulation comes into force.

For some specific materials and articles, however, a transitional period of 18 months would be insufficient, as economic operators would need additional time to identify and ensure the technical feasibility of alternatives on a large scale for the entire Union market. Some specific foods in particular pose additional challenges in the search for suitable alternatives to replace the current BPA-containing food contact coatings. Due to their high acid content, tomatoes, for example, are considered particularly aggressive filling goods. According to Brussels, a longer transition period is required to complete the validation steps for the alternatives and ensure product safety.

In addition, certain canned products such as processed fruit and vegetables and fish are subject to seasonal fluctuations and peaks in food production. This also affects the demand for cans, which is unlikely to be met by the BPA-free packaging volumes produced during the 18-month transition period. In order to give these manufacturers enough time to produce, avoid food waste and bring BPA-free cans onto the market on a commercial scale, they are to be granted a 36-month transition period.

A transitional period of 36 months is also to apply to finished food contact materials where a varnish or coating is applied to the outside of the packaging in addition to the internal protective varnish. According to the EU Commission, BPA-free formulations for the production of paints and coatings for the outer surface of metal packaging are currently under development. However, the industry has made less progress here than with BPA-free interior protective coatings. A longer transition period of up to three years is therefore also necessary here.

Ban on BPA in recycled materials “neither practicable nor proportionate”

In addition to the intentional use of BPA in the manufacture of certain food contact materials, the chemical may also be unintentionally present in other food contact materials, which can lead to migration into food and endanger human health. According to the EU Commission, BPA can be present as an impurity in the waste stream during the production of recycled materials, including paper and cardboard. This contamination can persist despite the use of cleaning and decontamination processes and find its way into the finished product, such as food packaging.

As companies in this market sector do not intentionally use BPA in their manufacturing processes and contamination cannot be fully controlled, and the EU is also working to promote a circular economy, it is neither practicable nor proportionate to ban the unintentional presence of BPA in recycled materials, according to Brussels.

Presence of BPA in recycled paper and cardboard to be monitored

In addition, there is currently a lack of information on the BPA content in materials and items made from recycled paper and cardboard for food packaging, the Commission added. In order to coordinate a common approach and create a level playing field, economic operators should therefore monitor the unintended presence of BPA in recycled paper and board. Reporting on this to the Member States should be introduced at Union level, it says. Such monitoring will help to identify best practices to reduce potential contamination or prevent migration, for example through the use of a functional barrier.

Monitoring should be carried out by manufacturers as, if BPA is found, they are best placed to initiate follow-up investigations, identify the source and actively seek solutions – in collaboration with the other companies in the supply chain.

According to the Commission, such activities could also provide feedback on the impact of other regulatory measures at Union level, such as the ban on BPA in thermal paper, which has been in force since January 2020.