Shorter product shelf life, the need to use a raft of coatings and changes in the appearance of food and beverage cans are all potential consequences of the French ban on bisphenol A (BPA) in food packaging from 2014, said the German Metal Packaging Association.
Jörg Höppner, managing director of Verband Metallverpackungen (VMV) told FoodProductionDaily.com the medium term changes were being explored as it was “highly unlikely” that an effective and viable replacement for the controversial chemical would be developed for can linings before France’s ban on the chemical came into force in just over two years.
The UK’s Metal Packaging Manufacturers Association (MPMA) said the move by France raised fundamental questions over the efficacy of Europe’s regulatory system if national Parliaments continued to ignore the science-based evidence delivered by safety experts.
Best for purpose
The VMV chief added his voice to the universal chorus of industry packaging bodies across Europe that the French ban was not supported by the current weight of scientific evidence. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) said in September 2010 that the use of BPA in food packaging posed no health concerns.
But the French National Assembly voted earlier this month to prohibit BPA in food packaging following concerns raised by the national food safety agency ANSES based on two scientific studies. EFSA announced last week it would also review this research.
“We are convinced that there is no scientific reason to replace a well-tested, authority-assessed and confirmed safe product,” said Höppner. “Considering that epoxy-based coatings offer the best combination of properties and economics of any currently fully proven coating chemistry we will therefore continue to promote these coatings as best for purpose for the majority of applications.”
The VMV head cautioned that the chances of bringing BPA-alternatives to market by 2014 were remote.
“It is highly unlikely that an alternative solution covering all applications and processing regimes will be available by 2014 or any other time in the near future,” he said.
Höppner confirmed that the industry had been working with coating suppliers to develop substitute chemical, which included pack testing for some products.
While the usual commercial sensitivities were in operation, he revealed: “Nevertheless, progress on alternatives is being made, and is being communicated at the business to business level.”
Issues that meant the 2014 deadline was almost certainly too close include the robust approval safety procedure for authorisation by EFSA as well as the lengthy test methods conducted by industry players. These included testing at all stages of productions – such as coating formulation, application to the metal substrate, curing, can and end forming, handling, filling and heat processing, said Höppner.
This can take five years or more and failure at any of the stages could extend this timescale.
“Earlier adoption of an unproven alternative carries unacceptable risk to product integrity and safety,” he added.
Shelf life reductions
The VMV head also said that for some beverage and food products, options were “being considered where it may be necessary in the medium-term to significantly reduce shelf life and potentially accept non-safety cosmetic issues.”
These included measures such as increased underfilm staining, increased discoloration of the coating by the foodstuff and reduced food product release properties.
He cautioned that the need to develop BPA alternatives would lead to a proliferation of linings in order to meet the challenges posed by the broad range of foods employing metal packaging.
“Our experience to date of any alternative systems is that there will need to be a substantially wider range of coatings each needing to be tested on individual production lines and approved for each product and processing regime,” said Höppner.
Arbiter of safety?
Nick Mullen, Director and chief executive at the UK’s Metal Packaging Manufacturers Association (MPMA) said the move by France raised fundamental questions over the efficacy of Europe’s regulatory system.
He added that safety was always the fundamental concern, allied withthe need for a clear mandate on which body determines whether something is safe or not.
“The answer until now has been food standard agencies supporting regulators, such as EFSA,” said Mullen. “If we now find that opinions, recommendations and guidance are to be ignored, how do we go forward from here? If the opinions of the recognised bodies are overturned, how can any organisation involved in the food supply chain proffer any material to the market? Who will be the arbiter of ‘safety’? “