A coalition of NGOs has called on California to comprehensively assess chemicals used in food packaging under its Safer Consumer Products programme.

At the same time, however, industry groups have protested against the product category even being under consideration.

In comments to the Department of Toxic Substances Control’s  (DTSC) consultation, five NGOs – including the Center for Environmental Health (CEH), Environmental Working Group (EWG) and Clean Water Action (CWA) – applauded the addition of food contact materials to the SCP draft 2018-2020 priority product work plan. “Given the universality of packaged food in the American diet and the waste stream, chemicals leaching from wrappings and containers pose a widespread threat,” the groups said.

Published last month, the draft work plan names seven broad product categories from which the DTSC may select ‘priority products’ for which a manufacturer must undertake an alternatives analysis. Five of these were carried over from the inaugural 2015-17 document; food packaging and lead-acid batteries have been added.

One complaint about the plan voiced by industry groups concerned the breadth of product categories and the inclusion of full classes of chemicals in the list of “candidate chemicals”.

But at the opposite extreme, the NGO coalition said that chemicals in food packaging  “must be seen as a single problem, whether individual candidate chemicals are used as linings, coatings, or integral components of the packaging itself”.

It, therefore, advocated a plan for “comprehensively addressing chemicals of concern in food packaging…[that] prioritizes exposure and requires addressing multiple types of substances and chemical classes that may harm human and/or environmental health, regardless of specific product function”.

Regulatory authority

In its comments to the consultation, industry coalition the Green Chemistry Alliance (GCA) argued the work plan “exceeds DTSC’s legal authority”. It said the statute does not permit the department to “supersede the authority of other agencies”, and instructs it not to “duplicate or adopt conflicting regulations for products and chemicals already regulated or subject to pending regulation”.

In the case of food packaging, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates these products.

“Food packaging must meet stringent, risk-based safety standards at the federal level,” said the American Chemistry Council. “A subsequent attempt for DTSC to regulate food packaging with respect to the health and safety of chemicals would not only be unnecessary; it would certainly either duplicate or conflict with FDA regulations”.

The ACC also said that DTSC action would “undermine FDA’s educational efforts to reassure consumers about the safety of food packaging”. Substances used in these products, it said, have “been deemed to have met FDA’s safety standard and be safe for use in food contact applications, taking migration and exposure into account”.

But in separate comments, coalition member The Breast Cancer Prevention Partners said that food packaging “meets all of the attributes outlined by the SCP Program to select priority product categories”.

Namely, according to the NGO:

  • a clear pathway for exposure;
  • found in biomonitoring studies and observed in indoor air quality studies; and
  • impacts on sensitive populations and on aquatic resources or water quality.

Food packaging product category

Food packaging is defined in the draft plan as “any product that is used to package hot, cold, or room-temperature food items for wholesale sale to restaurants and grocery stores or for retail sale to consumers.”

This includes products made from paper, ceramic, plastic, glass and metals.

The DTSC highlighted the following candidate chemicals for the category:

Chemical or chemical class Functional use Hazard
Bisphenol A or S Constituent of plastic resin lining food and beverage cans Reproductive toxicity, developmental toxicity, endocrine toxicity
Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances Create grease-proof and waterproof coatings for food packaging Reproductive toxicity, developmental toxicity, hepatotoxicity
Phthalates Plasticiser Carcinogenicity, endocrine toxicity, reproductive toxicity, developmental toxicity, environmental persistence
Styrene Constituent of polystyrene and rubber products Carcinogenicity, developmental toxicity, reproductive toxicity, ocular toxicity, neurotoxicity