Consumer health concern over exposure to mineral oils from paper and board packaging has triggered a voluntary commitment from European industry bodies to phase out their use over the next two years.
The Confederation of European Paper Industries (CEPI) and International Confederation of Paper and Board Converters in Europe (CITPA) made the joint pledge yesterday amid unease that traces of toxic mineral oils that can leach from paper and board packaging into food pose a hazard to humans.
Teresa Presas, CEPI director general told FoodProductionDaily.com the industry was taking the initiative to address consumer concerns despite a lack of toxicological studies to confirm the effects of human exposure to mineral oils migrating from packaging into food.
“While there is no evidence that mineral oils from food packaging are a cause for concern, we are doing this as a matter of consumer reassurance,” she added. “It is difficult to give a precise deadline for the phase out because there are such a huge number of mills but I believe a timeframe of a couple of years is possible.”
The issue became a major talking point last year after the Official Food Control Authority in Zurich, Switzerland raised concerns in two studies. The first paper highlighted the inclusion of newsprint in recycled paper and board as the main source of mineral oil migration. A second tranche of research found high levels of the chemicals had leached into dry packaged food are surveying products at random in a supermarket.
Mineral oils have carcinogenic properties and are said to accumulate in the liver, heart valves and lymph nodes.
However, the methods used to gain the results have not been universally accepted leading some scientists and industry experts to question their validity. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is currently examining the issue and is due to publish an opinion next year.
CEPI and CIPTA said that its members had already made “significant progress” in cutting levels of mineral oil used in its products and processes – claiming reductions of up to 90% in some cases.
“To formalise and further strengthen its efforts to reduce the use of mineral oils, the industry has agreed on a European-wide self-commitment,” they said. “This will phase out the use of printing inks based on mineral oils for printing paper and board packaging, and mineral oil-based process chemicals for food contact paper and board packaging material.”
Pira International estimated that printing inks account for a quarter of mineral oil contamination, with the majority coming from technical grades of the substance in newsprint that enter the supply chain through recycled board.
Presas said the lack of firm scientific evidence over the threat posed by mineral oils combined with the disruption it would cause to the recycling supply meant that the paper and board packaging sectors would continue to use recycled board.
“Our initiative means we are taking action on something that is more under our control,” added the CEPI chief. “For the rest, we have to talk to the other stakeholders in the supply to see that everyone is doing their bit.”