No decision on whether to introduce legislation to combat the potential threat from mineral oil hydrocarbons (MOH) in food and packaging will be made before 2014, said the European Commission (EC) today.
Instead the MOH question will form one strand of an over-arching review on food contact materials not currently covered under EU rules that Brussels and member states are embarking on over the next 18 months, EC health and consumer policy spokesman Frederic Vincent told FoodProductionDaily.com.
The next meeting on the topic involving representatives from the 27 EU nations is not even due to take place for another six months.
The announcement comes in the in the wake of an opinion by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) earlier this month which concluded the presence of the MOHs in the food chain was a potential human health hazard.
The assessment was issued as in response to growing concern over the extent of the threat from MOHs following studies by Swiss authorities in 2010 found that high levels of the toxic compounds was leaching from packaging into foods.
The food safety watchdog pinpointed recycled paperboard in food packaging as a likely major source of exposure to MOHs and highlighted that some breads and grains contained the highest levels of the mixtures.
The Parma-based agency also called for an overhaul of acceptable daily intake (ADI) levels for the chemicals and suggested a raft of new measures to assess and monitor the risk from the substances.
Impact assessment, resource issues
Brussels said it is undertaking a wholesale review of all food contact materials where no specific harmonised measures presently exist at EU level – such as paper and board, coatings, printing inks. Under the current regime, member states can work to national regulations.
The aims of the assessment are to “ensure food safety and an effective functioning of the internal market”, said Vincent.
This will involve carrying out an impact assessment that is not scheduled to be completed before the end of 2013, he added.
The conclusions of the EFSA opinion on mineral oils would feed into this analysis and be considered in options for further provisions on food contact materials, said Vincent.
Asked why the MOH matter would not be tackled either sooner or as a stand-alone issue, the spokesman replied: “We do not intend to single out certain topics on which we want to act at EU level before we do not have the full picture of the non-harmonised area.”
He added: “Purely from a resources point of view, it would not be efficient to organise a meeting with Member States in Brussels to discuss one issue. Moreover, Member States will need time to reflect on the opinion and what it means for their own national situation and coordinate their positions.”