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EU food safety left rudderless by Commission move on BPA

By Jane Byrne , 29-Nov-2010

The hand on the tiller that is food safety in Europe has been left somewhat unsteady by the recent regulatory actions taken by the European Commission on BPA and food colours – moves that are pandering to consumer fear and showing contempt for the food safety agency it created.

Does the Commission care about scientific rigour? Twice now, the EU has introduced legislation contrary to the findings of careful and reasoned review by experts at the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

The first piece of legislation that would seem to discard EFSA’s findings came on the heels of the negative publicity surrounding the UK based Southampton study.

The study linked certain colours with hyperactivity and made consumers wary to their presence. And since July 2010, warning labels on EU products containing the six colours are mandatory.

This regulation was harried in by MEPs as a last minute measure bundled into additives regulation, even though EFSA based experts did not find any evidence to back up the connection with hyperactivity.

And now, we find out that the European Union is set to introduce a ban on BPA in polycarbonate baby bottles next year over fears the chemical could be hazardous to the health of young children.

But again EFSA, in an opinion at the end of September, said it hadn’t identified any new evidence that would lead it to revise the current Tolerable Daily Intake for the chemical. Nor, added the agency back then, had it found convincing evidence of neurobehavioural toxicity for the chemical.

Why set up a body and then ignore its advice?

John Dalli, the European Commissioner of Health and Consumer Policy, declared the ban “good news for European consumers.”

But with four member states abstaining on the basis of the short notice given and the lack of time to examine the proposal, how could such a speedy approach be in consumers' best interest?

Now consumer perception or misperception, once it takes hold, can be hard to shake off.

And headlines like ‘Killer chemicals’ and ‘Gender benders’ in the global mainstream press have helped to give rise to some of the anxiety over BPA, and food and drink companies have been hunting for alternatives.

Indeed baby bottle manufacturers in Europe have practically already phased out the chemical from their production process.

Therein lies the risk of the marketplace.

But the EU food safety policy can not be guided by public opinion and outcry. And, if the communiqués of its good ship EFSA are to be sought and then discarded in such a fashion, the agency’s fate might well be that of a once-majestic vessel left to rot in an Atlantic graveyard.

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