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For the record

"Chemicals in food packaging may be health risk" Image

"Chemicals in food packaging may be health risk"

Articles appeared in the Daily Mirror, the Guardian, the Daily Express and Daily Telegraph today with headlines such as ‘Cancer danger in food packs’ and ‘Chemicals in food packaging may be health risk' based on a comment article published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

The articles say that hundreds of dangerous chemicals such as formaldehyde and endocrine disruptors are leaching from food packaging into food, and that current testing and regulatory systems are inadequate to identify health risks from long term exposure to these chemicals. Scientists have responded to these claims in some of the articles published today and we have gathered their comments here.

Dr Ian Musgrave, senior lecturer, Faculty of Medicine, University of Adelaide: "To consume as much formaldehyde as is present in a 100g apple, you would need to drink at least 20 litres of mineral water that had been stored in PET [polyethylene terephthalate] bottles.”

Professor David Coggan, occupational and environmental medicine, University of Southampton: “Formaldehyde is formed naturally in the body, for example from methanol that is present in fruit. Thus we should only be concerned about relatively high exposures to the compound, and even then any risks will be extremely small. Many of the most potent dietary endocrine disruptors are naturally occurring chemicals such as in soya. There is little to suggest that such combined exposures pose a threat to health other than in a few very specific circumstances." 

Professor Andy Smith, senior scientist, MRC Toxicology Unit in Leicester: “Regulators have the issue sufficiently under surveillance and control. Contamination of food by packaging is not a new issue and is already the subject of European and other studies. Many of the chemicals detected already are of such low levels that they are likely to pose no significant risk to consumers. It is unlikely that any significant causal findings would be achieved through epidemiological studies, which would require large-scale resources. The logistical problems would be immense.”

Sir Colin Berry, emeritus professor of pathology, Queen Mary, University of London: “No consideration is made in this commentary of likely benefits of the substances used in food packaging: they prevent contamination during handling, they prevent deliberate tampering and there is also the simple point that you have to have something on which to print information about the foodstuff inside.”

Document type: For The Record

Published: 20 February 2014

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