The FDA Reaches Agreement With Companies to Phase Out Food Packaging Containing PFAS

Graphic: WebMD

Last week, in a major but voluntary step, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced it had secured an agreement with three manufacturers to phase out food packaging that uses the “Forever” chemical called 6:2 FTOH – one of the PFAS chemicals that has been linked to cancer The agency had studied these chemicals (which are also found in carpets) and determined earlier this year, that it is much more toxic than earlier studies by the chemical industry suggested, according to the Environmental Working Group and the agency’s announcementAs we reported in ODP, a report published last summer in the New Food Economy revealed that the takeout bowls used by Chipotle and Sweetgreen were not 100 percent compostable as claimed, but instead were shown to contain PFAS and were actually toxic to compost.

Why This Matters:  Many states are beginning to ban PFAS chemicals in food packaging, so this announcement by the FDA is a step in the right direction.  But the FDA might have gone even farther because these chemicals are getting into our food.  The Hill reported that “Last year, a different FDA study that was leaked to The Hill and other news outlets showed that PFAS had been found in milk, meat, produce and store-made chocolate cakes.”

Voluntary Phase-Out

According to The Hill, the phase-out will begin in 2021 and the manufacturers will have 3 years to complete it, with an extra 18 months as a sort of grace period for all products to get sold off shelves.  One manufacturer, Chemours, already stopped selling products containing the chemical, and the three other participants are Archroma, AGC Chemicals Americas and Daikin America

Model Law

One of the ways that states make progress on complex issues like this is by adopting a “model” statute developed by experts.  As Bloomberg Law’s Emily Dooley reported,  “The Toxics In Packaging Clearinghouse developed landmark legislation in 1989 that led to limits on lead, mercury, cadmium, and hexavalent chromium in food packaging in 19 states. Now, in its first major update in decades, the group is circulating draft model language for a ban on per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in any concentration.”  They have drafted it as a total ban on these chemicals — which would prevent its use in everything from “plastic wrapped around cucumbers to pizza boxes,” but the chemical industry is concerned about a ban that goes that far.  New York state just passed a law banning PFAS chemicals from anything that comes into direct contact with food.  According to Bloomberg Law, San Francisco and other California cities have banned PFAS in single-use bowls, plates, and utensils.

Where Are They Found

In a study conducted back in 2014-15, researchers tested more than 400 samples of bags, wrappers, boxes, and cups from 27 fast-food and fast-casual restaurant chains in the U.S. They found, according to WebMD, that “One-third of all the samples, or 33%, tested positive for PFASs, according to the study. Bread and dessert wrappers were the most likely to have them — about half tested positive. Burger wrappers were second — 38% of those tested had PFAS. About 1 in 5 paperboard containers, like the boxes that hold french fries, also tested positive. Paper cups seemed to be in the clear — none tested positive for PFAS.”

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