Scientists raise further concerns over chemicals leaching into food from packaging

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It's long been known that infinitesimal particles of synthetic chemicals that are used in processing, packaging and storage also get into our food.

The process which is known as "leaching" or "migration," continues to cause concern in the scientific community because it is unknown what long term damage that these chemicals can do to our health.

These concerns have been addressed in commentary piece titled “Food packaging and migration of food contact materials: will epidemiologists rise to the neotoxic challenge?” and published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

This paper is calling for new epidemiological studies to review if food contact materials (FCMs) - that are regulated - are significant source of food contamination.

While the scientists in their commentary do not present any new and significant scientific evidence on the matter, they continue to be concerned that consumers are “chronically exposed to synthetic chemicals at low levels throughout their lives, including the most sensitive periods of development”.

"Whereas the science for some of these substances is being debated and policy-makers struggle to satisfy the needs of stakeholders, consumers remain exposed to these chemicals daily, mostly unknowingly," also wrote the authors.

The authors cite formaldehyde – a cancer causing substance – which is found in plastic fizzy drinks bottles and melamine tableware, but also bisphenol A, tributyltin, triclosan, and phthalates which are endocrine-disrupting chemicals that have been associated with lower fertility, increased incidence of endometriosis and some cancers.

They also suggest that this "casts serious doubts on the adequacy of chemical regulatory procedures" and are calling for a "population based assessment and biomonitoring " to rule out any links between FCMs and chronic health conditions.

"Since most foods are packaged, and the entire population is likely to be exposed, it is of utmost importance that gaps in knowledge are reliably and rapidly filled."

The publication of the paper has caused several reactions amongst other scientists who insist that the dangers of toxic chemicals in food contact materials is overblown.

The American Chemistry Council said in a statement, that the paper was misleading:

"The authors also make unfounded comments about formaldehyde, which is a ubiquitous, naturally occurring substance in many natural foods, including fruits like pears and apples."

"It is produced in healthy adults and children continuously as a result of consuming a balanced diet, with those natural exposures likely to dwarf any intermittent exposures from consumer products."

"Formaldehyde metabolizes quickly in the body; it breaks down rapidly, is not persistent and does not accumulate in the environment."

Ian Musgrave, a pharmacologist at the University of Adelaide, told the Guardian, that is is “very hard to take seriously an article on the risks of packaging.”

“Formaldehyde is also present in many foods naturally, to consume as much formaldehyde as is present in a 100 gram apple, you would need to drink at least 20 litres of mineral water that had been stored in PET bottles,” Musgrave said.

“The concern about formaldehyde from food packaging is significantly overrated, unless we are willing to place ‘potential cancer hazard’ stickers on fresh fruit and vegetables.”

He added, “While we should not be dismissive of the potential for undesirable materials in packaging to migrate into food, the risks are exceptionally small. As demonstrated by the formaldehyde mistake in this paper, concentrating on very low levels of migrating materials without paying attention to the concentrations in regard to physiology, or other health risks, will create unwarranted concern.”

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