Belgium: towards a prohibition of Bisphenol A in food containers?

11 October 2010

Isabelle Dupuis, Nicolas Carbonnelle

Bisphenol A (or “BPA”) is a chemical compound widely used in the manufacture of polycarbonate plastics. BPA consequently enters in the composition of a large variety of common products, such as baby and water bottles, sports equipment, medical and dental devices. Epoxy resins containing BPA have also commonly been used for years as coatings on the inside of food and beverage cans. According to Commission Directive 2002/72/EC dated 6 August 2002 relating to plastic materials and articles intended to come into contact with food, BPA is permitted for use in food contact materials in the EU.

It is however a well-known phenomenon that small amounts of BPA can migrate from the packaging into the food or beverage contained in the can. Scientific studies raised concerns as to the possible harm BPA could cause to human health (neurodevelopment toxicity for instance), especially for babies and young children. National and international regulatory bodies, such as the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) or the World Health Organization (WHO), are currently assessing the merits of those studies in order to determine whether specific restrictive measures should be taken with respect to the use of BPA in food and beverage containers.

In particular, the European Commission requested that the EFSA issue a comprehensive opinion on this matter. The Panel on Food Contact Materials, Enzymes, Flavourings and Processing Aids of the EFSA was initially due to deliver its advice in May 2010.

The review of the approximately 800 publications has however taken considerably more time than anticipated and the scientists of the panel identified areas of uncertainty which deserved further consideration. The Panel announced that it would finalise and publish its long-awaited opinion in September 2010.

The health concerns regarding the use of BPA in food and beverages containers also caught the attention of national legislators. Denmark banned BPA in materials in contact with food for children aged 0-3 years. The French legislator also chose to suspend the manufacture, importation, exportation and marketing of baby bottles produced from BPA until the adoption of a motivated recommendation by the French Health Products Safety Agency (Afssaps) that would authorise those operations again.

In Belgium, a draft legislation is pending before the Senate that would empower the King (read the Government) to prohibit the manufacture, importation and marketing or distribution of food containers made out of materials containing BPA.

Given the political situation in Belgium, it is likely that the EFSA will publish its guidance and analysis before any legislation is actually adopted in Belgium.