Sweden said it will introduce a ban on bisphenol A (BPA) in food packaging targeted at young children but stepped back from proposals to force food processing and packaging players to find wholesale alternatives to the chemical.
The Swedish Government last week unveiled its plan to implement a ban on the BPA in food packaging intended for children under the age of three from the beginning of 2013.
This move will outlaw use of the substance in all jars, bottles and infant formula containers for food and drinks for young children and invokes a similar ban to one introduced in Denmark in 2010 - but falls short of French proposals to prohibit BPA in all packaging from 2014.
Not legally feasible
The decision was delivered following a joint report from Swedish Chemical Agency (KEMI) and the National Food Administration (SLV) in 2011 which tabled a series of proposals to cut human exposure to the controversial chemical found in a host of applications – including food packaging, plastic water pipes and shop receipts.
The joint analysis highlighted food packaging such as epoxy resins in metal packaging and canned foods and beverages as a major route of human exposure - and suggested that companies submit a phase-out strategy that would be implemented almost immediately.
But an official from the country’s Environment Ministry told FoodProductionDaily.com an initiative to oblige processing and packaging companies to draw up a blueprint on how they aimed to phase out use of BPA by the end of 2012 was rejected because the plan was not “legally feasible”.
“The decision not to go ahead with this aspect of the report came very soon from lawyers in a number of Ministries,” he added.
Upon examining current national regulations, authorities found they was no provision to invoke an across-the-board phase-out of the chemical, said the official. It appears there was no political will to implement a unilateral BPA ban through national legislation, as there was in France. Last year, the French approved provisonal legislation to ban the substance.
Following publication of the KEMI/SLV report, the Government embarked on an extensive consultation exercise with 58 stakeholders - including Government agencies, industry bodies and research institutes.
The document proposed that no national BPA ban be introduced but rather that any action be harmonized with current European Union thinking under REACH regulations.
A summary of the 29 organisations that responded to the consultation request from the Government showed that industry bodies rejected the need to outlaw BPA – citing opinions from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) that the chemical posed no health hazard at currently permissible levels.
The response from the Confederation of Swedish Enterprises (SN) appeared to influence Government thinking. It said the substitution proposal was founded on a “very fragile, if not, non-existent legal basis”.
The body labeled the 12-month phase-out timetable as “unreasonable” and estimated the development of alternative coatings would take “at least five years…both to ensure product quality and also ensure the health aspect of each individual application.”
EU inaction slammed
Environment Minister Lena Ek said Sweden had taken the action to boost parental confidence that products that come into contact with children were safe. But the Ministry acknowledged that children's food marketed in Sweden already comes in BPA-free packaging and the ban would only “ensure that this voluntary phase-out of BPA becomes permanent”.
But the Minister also hit out at Brussels for not doing enough to curb exposure to the chemical.
"The EU should take more far-reaching initiatives than today to limit children's exposure to bisphenol A and other known endocrine disruptors,” she said. “I intend to raise the issue with the Commission and the Member States this spring when we discuss the contents of the EU's next environmental action programme."
The Scandinavian country also confirmed it will be examining whether or not to phase out use of BPA in polyester-based materials treated with epoxy, used for relining water pipes.