MEPs back down from EU bisphenol ban

Plastic bottles often contain bisphenol A, a chemical that will be banned in France in 2015. [Steven Depolo/Flickr]

The European Parliament has shied away from demanding a full ban on bisphenol A, instead approving measures that will lower the amount of the chemical that can be part of food packaging.

On Wednesday (11 January), MEPs on the Environment, Food and Public Health committee defeated a cross-party proposal by four deputies, which argued that “only a full ban can provide certainty for both consumers and industry”, by 42 votes to 17.

It added that the Commission should “urgently assess whether BPA is present in other FCM [food contact materials], and if so, to put measures in place to also ban these uses”.

Instead, the committee endorsed a European Commission proposal which lowers the Specific Migration Limit (SML), applicable to plastics, coatings, and varnishes for metals and other food contact sources of BPA, from 0.06 mg/kg to 0.05 mg/kg.

It also imposes a ban on bisphenol in plastic bottles and packaging containing food for babies and children under three years old.

Last June, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) voted unanimously to identify BPA as a substance of very high concern (SVHC) on the grounds that “it is a substance with endocrine disrupting properties for which there is a scientific evidence of probable serious effects to human health”.

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The vote is something of a U-turn by MEPs, who called for a full ban on BPA in food packaging in 2016, health and environmental NGOs complained that the MEPs had ‘contradicted their previous position’.

“The adverse health effects of Bisphenol A, even at low doses, are so well documented that it should already have been banned from all consumer products a long time ago,” said Natacha Cingotti of the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL).

Martin Häusling, the German Green MEP who drafted the motion opposing the Commission proposal, pinned the blame on the assembly’s Socialist and Conservative groups for what he described as a ‘major setback’ in consumer protection.

“A reduction of the limits is not enough. Even the smallest amounts of the substance can interfere with our sensitive hormone system and lead to permanent changes,” he said.

Others defended the result as a pragmatic compromise.

“If we are saying yes to the objection we end up having no proposal at all, no legislation in place at all and that would mean that we are not able to protect our children. With the proposal from the Commission, even though it’s not ambitious enough we will within six months be able to protect our children against exposure from BPA in food contact materials,” said Christel Schaldemose, spokesperson on the file for the Parliament’s Socialist and Democrat group.

“We think that even though it’s a very small step, it’s a step in the right direction,” she added.

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