Food packaging

Supporters of banning chemicals in food packaging

Image: tom.arthur, Wikimedia Commons

By Vladislava Sukhanovskaya

Capital Information Service

Some lawmakers and conservationists want to ban chemicals in food packaging that they say threaten the health of Michiganders.

PFAS, bisphenols, and phthalates can be found in almost any food package, from burger packages to beverage bottles.

The chemicals include perfluorinated and polyfluorinated substances or PFAS, a large group of chemicals that have been used around the world since the 1940s to make “products that resist heat, oil, stains, grease, and grease. water, ”according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. PFAS chemicals are so effective that they are used in many industries, including food packaging.

A bill banning these chemicals in food packaging has been introduced in the Michigan Senate.

Other troublesome chemicals identified in the proposed ban are bisphenols and phthalates. Bisphenols are used to garnish cans and phthalates are commonly used in plastic food packaging to add flexibility, Courtney Carignan, assistant professor in the Department of Food Sciences and Human Nutrition wrote in an email. from Michigan State University.

It’s not easy to know which food packaging contains these chemicals because there is no labeling requirement for them, Carignan said.

According to the Ecology Center, a nonprofit environmental group located in Ann Arbor and Detroit, PFAS, bisphenols, and phthalates can be found in hamburger wrappers, french fries bags, canned foods, and consumer packaging. the drinks.

The release of these chemicals in food depends on the temperature, storage time and acidity of the food, said Rebecca Meuninck, deputy director of the Ecology Center.

“Many of these chemicals have been linked to worrying health effects such as infertility, hormonal and immune disturbances,” Carignan said.

They accumulate in people’s bodies, said Sen. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, who sponsored the legislation to ban them. “The more we are exposed to it, the worse it is for our health. People have PFAS in their blood. PFAS last a very long time, they do not break down.

PFAS can cause high cholesterol, a decreased immune system response to vaccines and the development of certain types of cancer, according to the State Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy.

It is important to avoid PFAS in packaging, not only because it can be released into food, but also because the manufacture of this type of packaging and its disposal pollutes the environment, said Meuninck.

There are alternatives to PFAS, such as bamboo, palm leaf, organic wax, clay, and compostable plastic polylactic acid which is typically made from corn, according to Toxic-Free Future and Clean Production Action at non-profit. Both organizations advocate for safer products and chemicals.

PFAS is a long-standing controversial issue in Michigan.

State officials say at least 1.9 million people are affected by PFAS and more than 11,000 sites are contaminated with the family of chemicals, according to reports. In 2018 and 2019, the state spent $ 69 million to clean up and treat PFAS, according to Bridge Michigan.

In 2021, the chemical company 3M sued Michigan to oppose new state limits for PFAS in drinking water, saying those limits are wrong because they were set as part of a “process. regulatory rushed and invalid, ”according to Bridge Michigan.

People can ask companies like McDonald’s and Burger King to phase out PFASs from packaging, Meunick said. Panera and Whole Foods are working to do it now.

It is entirely possible for companies to eliminate PFAS and other chemicals from food packaging, Irwin said. “There are a lot of food packaging systems that don’t use these chemicals. And Michigan is a major center for packaging and food innovation. “

This is Irwin’s second attempt to ban chemicals in packaging. He said: “The legislation has not been very successful in the past, but every year we learn more about PFAS. “

This time around, it has the backing of the governor, who on October 27 issued an executive directive to limit state purchasing of products with PFAS.

And the Biden administration recently announced a plan to “prevent PFAS from being released into the air, watering systems and the food supply.”

Similar bans have taken place in California, Connecticut, Minnesota, Maine, New York, Vermont and Washington.