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Food-contact rules diverging globally

By: Bill Bregar

November 19, 2013

ATLANTA — The world is moving away from harmonized global standards for food-contact packaging, according to Jeffrey Keithline, a lawyer at Keller and Heckman LLC of Washington.

The Food and Drug Administration became one of the world's first government agencies to regulate food packaging, in 1958, Keithline said. The FDA regulates packaging similar to the way it regulates food additives, he added.

Keithline gave an update on food-contact regulations during a presentation at the Society of Plastics Engineers' Annual Blow Molding Conference, held Oct. 8-9 in Atlanta.

The packaging sector faces new U.S. conditions for testing, for migration of substances into milk and juice, he said.

China is developing its own regulations. China has published approvals for hundreds of substances used in packaging, covering more than 100 polymers and about 1,600 additives, Keithline said. The key will be how aggressively the standards will be enforced, he said.

Global packaging companies face some challenges. For example, in Europe, plastics rules are the only ones harmonized at the European Union level, across all EU countries, he said. But other materials, such as paper, adhesives and coatings, are regulated on a country-by-country basis.

And Keithline said NGOs, or non-governmental organizations, are questioning FDA reviews and raising their own safety concerns.

"There is a big movement now, a lot of the work that we're seeing by companies trying to establish clearances for materials that they can use in Europe, and the United States and China," he told blow molding conference attendees.