A ruling by the French Constitutional Council has undermined the country’s ban on Bisphenol A. France’s highest court ruled that manufacturers can continue export products that contain the substance. EURACTIV France reports.
Bisphenol A (BPA) is a substance used in the manufacture of many everyday objects, including plastic bottles, food processors and metal food containers. Some scientists suspect that exposure to the chemical, for example by eating canned food, can disrupt the body’s hormone functions.
In a decision on 17 September 2015, the Constitutional Council overturned the ban on the use of BPA in food containers destined for the export market. The sale and import of the substance remains prohibited in France itself.
The Constitutional Council’s decision to partially subvert the French ban on BPA has re-opened the scientific debate on the dangers of the hormone disrupter. This has been seen as a defeat for the French ecology minister, Ségolène Royal.
The court arrived at this paradoxical decision to protect the competitiveness of French businesses, as the use of the substance is still permitted in the European Union.
“The decision of the Constitutional Council is astonishing. It feels like we have gone back to the time of Chernobyl, when we were told that the radioactive cloud had stopped at the French border,” MEP Michèle Rivasi (Greens) said.
Heated scientific debate
The Constitutional Council did not consider itself competent to pass judgement on the scientific basis for the ban, nor on the conformity of the French ban with European law.
For the plastics industry, the French ban on products that contain BPA is “scientifically unfounded”. A position supported by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which concluded in 2015 that Bisphenol A did not present a threat to consumer health.
Michel Loubry, a regional director of the industry group PlasticsEurope, welcomed the decision and questioned the ongoing battle between France and the European Commission over the risks posed by the material. “In the French industry, 40% of metal packaging that contains Bisphenol A is for the export market,” he said.
The recommendations of the health authorities in most other countries, including German and the United States, are very different. France, whose concern over the harmful effects of BPA is partially shared by Denmark, is still the only country to have banned the substance.
“The ecology ministry is the main supervisor of the French food safety authority (ANSES),” said Michel Loubry, sceptical of the agency’s independence. In an analysis of Bisphenol A published last June, ANSES confirmed its previous decision to ban the substance, but accepted in a footnote that very low exposure did not pose a health risk.
Two Directorates General of the European Commission opened infringement procedures against France in March this year. DG Industry for hindering entrepreneurial freedom, and DG Health for France’s non-respect of the Dangerous Substances Directive.