A bite at toxins in food packaging

Many of the 12,000 chemicals used in the global production of food contact materials (8,000 in Europe) have not been adequately tested to determine their actual toxicity, according to the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL). ).

And of them, at least 608 that are being used in materials in contact with food are toxic to health, according to a study published in “Environmental International”, including endocrine disruptors. These are bisphenols, phthalates or fluorinated compounds, etc.

In the case of bisphenol A (BPA), it is a substance that is used with others to make plastics and resins. It is also used to produce epoxy resins present in cans. Although people do not consciously consume it, BPA can migrate in small quantities from these containers to food, and from there to the body.

That is, if you have consumed any packaged food or drink, it is highly likely that you have ingested small amounts of BPA. But even if you don't take anything packaged, recycled bottles can also have it, as well as the purchase receipt.

France banned it in 2015 in materials in contact with food. In Spain, this ban did not arrive until 2023. Now, as explained Carlos de Prada, responsible for the Toxic-Free Home initiative, “such a ban was conditional on what the EU did, so its ban is not such today.”

And in Europe it is still not prohibited. A reality that is about to change after 20 years of suspicion. The European Commission has presented the proposal for a regulation that plans to ban BPA and other bisphenols (it is unknown what they are). Although it will take until the end.

«This proposal – it continues – was made public on February 9 and on March 8 the allegations phase ended. These should have been studied during the first quarter of the year, as planned, despite the small margin. As for the approval, it is not known, it may be imminent or postponed as they wish.

From the Organization of Consumers and Users (OCU) they insist on the «urgency that its use is prohibited at European level. “This regulation, which has yet to be formally approved, could come into force at the end of 2025 or beginning of 2026.”

«We believe that this year its definitive ban will be approved in all member countries, but still There will be an adaptation period of several years, “So we will continue to be exposed to bisphenol A in the packaging for a while…” they add from the OCU.

A time that adds up to years and years of exposure. That is why De Prada considers this initiative positive, although it comes late. «The resistance to listening to Science has led to hundreds of millions of people being exposed to this substance for years and many of them may have suffered consequences. Someone should hold accountable the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which for so long maintained that it was safe for us to be exposed to BPA concentrations between 20,000 and 250,000 times higher than those it now tells us are safe.», says the specialist regarding the report that the EFSA published in 2023 in which it was recognized that BPA is even more toxic than previously thought, since the safety threshold has been reduced 20,000 times in the most recent evaluation of the EFSA (which was from 2015).

But “before, the levels were 250,000 times higher than what was said to be safe before 2015. This shows that the EFSA with all the aplomb in the world changes its mind on toxicity. And what do we do with the millions of people who have been exposing themselves to concentrations of BPA that the EFSA now tells us are unsafe? Nothing, no one will demand responsibilities,” she adds.

And that should change because BPA, even at very low concentrations, has been associated with negative effects on the immune system, as well as neurodevelopment, low birth weight, infertility, obesity and metabolic disease, risk of hormone-related cancer or cardiovascular disease. .

But the problem is not just BPA: «According to the European Biomonitoring Initiative, 50% of Europeans already have other bisphenols in their bodies that have been used as substitutes for BPA, such as bisphenol S (BPS), F (BPF) and others that Science warns can also cause harmful effects,” he says. And BPA-free products may not be free of other toxic bisphenols.

«The use of BPA has been replaced by BPS and BPF as substitutes. However, these bisphenols have a structure similar to BPA and are not a good alternative, as there is evidence that they also act as endocrine disruptors. Today, work is being done to search for less dangerous alternatives to BPA, but at the moment there do not seem to be clear candidates,” they denounce from the OCU.

In fact, ““Current BPA substitutes alter the expression and release of insulin in mice”, as a Ciberdem study published in “Chemosphere” has shown. And this bisphenol-induced insulin hypersecretion may be one of the altered processes that contribute to insulin resistance, which represents a risk factor for type 2 diabetes and obesity.

«Another problem is that this European proposal includes other bisphenols for their ban, but does not detail which, it only specifies that those included in some lists have a degree of official evidence (of their toxicity). But these lists can include many fewer substances than they should, since there is usually a gap between what Science knows and what is officially assumed,” says De Prada, who recalls that since the ban in France “many companies replaced the BPA. The problem is that they replaced it with other less studied bisphenols. “It was to be expected that the biological effects would be similar and that is what has in fact been confirmed.”

Furthermore, what happened demonstrates for this expert “how defective the REACH Regulation (the main European standard that controls chemicals), which isIt's a drain “which allows us to be exposed to countless toxic substances.”

In this sense, it is important that the REACH Regulation «be deeply reformed Or else we Europeans will continue for many years without our health being protected against many toxic substances. And it is that “a substance should not be put on the market without it being clearly evident that it does not affect health. Instead, it is done the other way around, they are marketed without having been adequately studied.

This is also proven by what happens with permanent chemicals (PFAS) in contact with food. In early March, the EU Council and the European Parliament reached a provisional political agreement to require that all packaging that comes into contact with food be free of PFAS. A measure that Denmark already took in 2019, when it banned its use. However, this agreement denotes what De Prada said that the risk is not evaluated before.

Furthermore, and returning to REACH, this regulation allows thresholds for chemical substances without taking into account the cocktail effect. “You don't have a single substance in your body, and that makes you underestimate the real risk,” recalls De Prada.

The slow brake on BPA

► 09/2023

The EEA Report, based on data from HBM4EU, shows that 92% of adults in 11 participating countries had BPA in their urine

► 04/2023

The EFSA, after reviewing more than 800 studies, concludes that all age groups are at risk of harmful effects from BPA


EFSA meets with EMA to discuss EFSA draft scientific opinion on reassessment of public health risks

► 05/2022

The new Spanish Waste Law prohibits the use of bisphenol A (as well as phthalates) in all plastic containers


Since then, BPA cannot be used on thermal paper (purchase receipt) with a concentration equal to or greater than 0.02% by weight.


The EU Court confirms that it is a “substance of extremely worrying” due to its “toxic properties” for reproduction


BPA is banned in plastic bottles and containers containing food for babies and children under three years of age in the EU


The EU reduces the specific migration limit of bisphenol A to 0.05 mg per kilogram of food for plastic materials and objects


The European Commission (EC) through the adoption of a Regulation affirms that BPA is a toxic substance for reproduction


France banned bisphenol A in food contact materials, becoming the first European country to do so

► 01/2011

The European Commission prohibits the use of bisphenol A in the manufacture of plastic bottles for infants


Date on which, according to the Chem Trust organization, it was first discovered that BPA could imitate estrogen, the female hormone