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EU Ministers approve plastics food packaging law.

THE PLASTICS industry will have to grapple with a new detailed European Union (EU) regulation laying down rules on the manufacture and use of plastics as materials for packaging in contact with food.

This proposed law has been accepted by the EU Council of Ministers. It was drafted by the European Commission--and as long as the European Parliament does not object (and this is not expected)--the legislation should come into force from January 2013.

From that point, companies will start testing whether materials used to make these plastics leach into foodstuffs at safe levels. From 2013, they may use the new regulation's system for making these 'migration tests'--it becomes compulsory from January 2016.

An explanatory memorandum fixed to the legislation explained that a sophisticated testing regime was needed because of the increasing complexity of plastics packaging. "In recent years plastic food contact materials are being developed that do not only consist of one plastic but combine up to 15 different plastic layers to attain optimum functionality and protection of the food, while reducing packaging waste," it noted.

The legislation tries to keep a handle on this by insisting only substances included in a list of authorised substances maybe used to make plastic layers in plastic materials and articles for food packaging. This list is wide-ranging, containing monomers or other starting substances; additives excluding colorants; polymer production aids excluding solvents; and macromolecules obtained from microbial fermentation.

And there are detailed rules on the amount of these substances that can end up in food. For certain substances, the legislation includes 'specific migration limits', and for others without a special limit, a general limit of 60 mg/kg shall apply. Furthermore, the legislation says: "Plastic materials and articles shall not transfer their constituents to food simulants inquantities exceeding 10 milligrams of total constituents released per dm2 of food contact surface (mg/dm2)."

Substances mutagenic, carcinogenic or toxic to reproduction cannot be used in food contact materials without previous authorisation.

The use of colourants and solvents in this packaging is not covered by the law and remains controlled by national rules within the EU's 27 member states, although the legislation notes "that situation should be reassessed at a later stage."

And where a special food contact barrier is used by manufacturers to protect food, unauthorised packaging materials can be used, so long as they do not leach into food at levels exceeding 0.01 mg/kg of food.
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Author:Nuthall, Keith
Publication:International News
Date:Dec 1, 2010
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