Food Law News - EU - 2004

FSA Consultation Letter, 16 March 2004

CONTACT MATERIALS - Preliminary draft Commission proposal for regulating recycled plastic for use in contact with food

The European Commission has made proposals to regulate the use of recycled plastic materials and articles intended to come into contact with food.

Consultation details

The Commission’s proposal deals with mechanical processes for recycling food contact plastic for further use in contact with food. Other means of recycling that use a process of chemical depolymerisation are not subject to this proposal, they are subject to rules laid down in Commission Directive 2002/72/EC on plastic materials and articles intended to come into contact with food. This also applies to a manufacturers, re-use of virgin in-house plastic production scrap.

Under this proposal a system will be put in place that will allow a person or company to apply for an authorisation to use a specified process to recycle food contact plastics for further use in contact with food. The application will be examined by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) before it makes a recommendation to the European Commission. The Commission will then decide whether to grant an authorisation.

The detail of the Commission’s proposal elaborates the provisions that will allow this system to work openly and ensure that the public is protected from unsafe contaminants in the recycled plastic. It provides for the authorised processes to be used by others under licence and for the authorised processes in operation to be audited annually. This will ensure they continue to comply with the terms of the authorisation that include having a quality assurance system in place.

The auditors will have to meet specified criteria before they are accepted by a Member State national authority to do this audit work. Authorisations that have been granted can be changed, suspended or revoked. The materials and articles produced by the recycling process will have to comply with rules about labelling and traceability and they will have to have declarations of compliance with the rules supported by proper records. The proposal also includes provisions on confidentiality and data protection.

At the moment there is no harmonised system in place across the European Union for regulating the recycling of food contact plastics. Some Member States ban the process and others have some controls of their own. In the UK all food contact plastics have to meet the requirements of Commission Directive 2002/72/EC on plastic materials and articles intended to be brought into contact with food. These rules are given effect in UK law by the Plastic Materials and Articles in Contact with Food Regulations 1998 (as amended).

Because of this variation across the EU, the Food Standards Agency proposes supporting the intention to make harmonised rules that will apply across the EU subject to ensuring that they provide a good framework that allows businesses to operate within a system that provides effective protection for consumers.

This proposal should not have any great detrimental effect. It will provide beneficial protection for the public while giving businesses a common set of rules to comply with across the EU. Consumers will also know that wherever they are in the EU, any recycled food contact plastics have been manufactured to a consistent standard.

We should particularly like to know whether there are particular difficulties or overbearing costs for anyone likely to be affected by these proposals. If you find any particular weaknesses in the proposals please let me know what they are and, if you can, say how you think these might be overcome.

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