Alan Rownan is ethical labels analyst at market research company Euromonitor.
In the wake of the recent European parliament decision to support a ban of Bisphenol A (BPA) from packaging in contact with foodstuffs, manufacturers have had much to ponder.
Some manufacturers are likely patting themselves on the back, having already steered packaging innovation away from using the chemical, substituting or avoiding the chemical long before the ban was imposed, in an effort to quell long-held suspicions about the safety of the chemical.
In 2015, packaged food and soft drinks products bearing a Bisphenol A (BPA) free claim enjoyed global value sales of over USD1.5 billion (€1.4bn).
The Parliament-led interrogation resulted in an overwhelming majority of MEPs (91%) voting in favour of the ban. Despite the European Food and Safety Authority (EFSA) conducting rigorous analysis on the chemical, reviewing over 400 peer-reviewed scientific journal articles between 2006 and 2013, MEPs last week effectively voted to turn their backs on the bulk of evidence which showed the chemical to be safe at certain levels, holding in higher regard the small minority of publications that unearthed a correlation between BPA and human health.
The overarching industry feeling emanating from the vote has been the questionable structure of the parliament that enables politicians to make scientific evaluations that they are simply unqualified to do. To many, it seems that this is a case of the cart pulling the horse; politics dictating science.
A scientifically justified ban or one driven by consumer fear?
The effective fly in the ointment is the outliers of BPA safety studies. Contradicting EFSA's recommendations was a health ministry report from the Netherlands that recommended reducing exposure to BPA, in particular for small children and pregnant women, along with women that are breastfeeding, as these groups are particularly at risk.
Moreover, in France, authorities have proposed the addition of BPA to the REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals) candidate list of substances of very high concern (SVHC) on the basis that it can interfere with the human endocrine system. The European Chemicals Agency risks assessment board classified BPA as toxic for sexual reproduction, affecting both fertility and sexual function.
What next for manufacturers?
The BPA coalition voiced its concern, stating that the amendment has been based on tenuous logic at best. However, regardless of method, logic or rationale, manufacturers will need to remain flexible as they return to the drawing board to assess viable alternatives, some of which are hormonally active and virtually identical to BPA and could find themselves next on the EU chopping block.
Until these question marks hanging over alternatives are addressed, manufacturers will need to tread carefully as they seek to avoid undergoing the further rigmarole of adjusting to future bans that are on the horizon.