Restrictions on packaging may apply following a European Commission meeting tomorrow, which is in response to advice issued by EFSA on the hazards associated with the use of 4-methylbenzophenone (4MBP) in packaging ink.
According to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the risks posed by the ink component on breakfast cereal packaging are low for most people, based on current limited data, but it could cause harm to some children.
And the Italy-based agency said that it lacked data to analyse the effects of longer-term consumption of contaminated cereal.
In February, the German authorities notified the Commission of the migration of 4MBP from packaging into certain cereal products, in a concentration of 798 micrograms/kg. The Belgian Authorities also provided data later the same month, reporting concentrations of the chemical in cereals up to 3729 μg/kg.
As a result, the Commission requested a rapid risk assessment from EFSA on 4MBP in foodstuffs and pending the EFSA statement, some member states withdrew cereal products from the market.
The Commission’s health spokesperson, Haravgi-Nina Papadoulaki, said that the Standing Committee’s meeting tomorrow will assess whether restrictions should apply on the use of cardboard boxes printed with inks containing 4MBP and benzophenone that do not also have a special plastic or aluminium barrier to block the transfer of these substances into the food.
She told FoodProductionDaily.com that the other objectives of tomorrow’s session will be to address a common acceptable level for 4MBP in foods and to evaluate ways to monitor the situation through a harmonised EU approach.
4MBP is used as a photo-initiator of UV-cured printing inks and lacquers applied on the surface of the packages, mainly cardboard boxes. It may be used in combination with or as replacement of benzophenone.
“Given their volatility, both substances may migrate into the package and contaminate even solid foodstuffs,” said EFSA in a statement.
Riitta Maijal, EFSA’s director of risk assessment, said that while migration of 4MBP from packaging into foods is not desirable: ‘only in the highest exposure scenario considered - regular consumption of products contaminated at the highest levels reported so far - could some children possibly be at risk."
The EU agency said it needed more information to fully assess consumer exposure to the chemical and its toxicological effects in humans, but that based on toxicity studies of benzophenone, EFSA concluded that 4MBP was likely to be a carcinogen but should not cause damage to DNA, the genetic material of cells.
EFSA also found that there was not enough scientific evidence to be able to apply the previously established group TDI (Tolerable Daily Intake) for benzophenone and hydroxybenzophenone to 4MP, and the agency said it is due to review the TDI for benzophenone and hydroxybenzophenone by the end of May 2009.