Hungry for more: The EU limits “forever chemicals” in food – but the universal PFAS ban is still far away
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Hungry for more: The EU limits “forever chemicals” in food – but the universal PFAS ban is still far away

At long last, the EU has set limits for how much PFAS food sold within the union is allowed to contain. The limits came into force on January 1, and now it’s up to food producers, along with government agencies, to make sure they are not exceeded. All the while, it’s business as usual for the creators behind the ongoing “forever chemicals” pollution – companies producing and applying PFAS to everyday products.

Considering the fact that PFAS is the talk of the town these days, it may be surprising to learn that the EU has not set a limit for how much PFAS is allowed in food sold within the union – until now. Over the summer, EU member states decided to introduce common limit values for PFAS in meat, fish and eggs, following a proposal from the European Commission.

The new limits are trailing the risk assessment carried out by the EU’s Food Safety Authority (EFSA) back in 2020.

The assessment established a health-based guidance value of 4.4 nanograms per kilogram of body weight per week of combined amount of four common PFAS substances, also known as the PFAS4: PFOA, PFOS, PFNA, and PFHxS.

“There is still a lot of uncertainty regarding enforcement, reporting, and follow-up”

Although there is a sampling plan issued by the EU for how testing should be performed, it’s up to the individual Member States and their agencies to determine the details. This means that there is still a lot of uncertainty regarding enforcement, reporting, and follow-up.

 

Just four among almost 5,000

While these limits are steps in the right direction towards raising awareness about PFAS and shielding consumers from some of the overwhelming exposure to these substances, they only apply to four – albeit four of the most common – in a group of around 4,700 man-made chemicals. To say that testing for just PFAS4 doesn’t provide the full PFAS picture is a grave understatement.

“Linked to a number of health issues, including cancers, infertility, reduced birth weight, increased cholesterol, and thyroid disease”

PFAS have been manufactured and used in products such as make-up, non-stick pans, water- and greaseproof textiles, food-packaging materials, and firefighting foam since the 1950s, and continue to be used on a broad scale.

They are often referred to as “forever chemicals”, due to the fact that they don’t break down naturally, and have been linked to a number of health issues, including cancers, infertility, reduced birth weight, increased cholesterol, and thyroid disease.

Since PFAS repel grease and water, they are not stored in the fat tissue of humans and animals – which many other bioaccumulative substances are – but bind to proteins. This is the main reason why the new limits are restricted to meat, fish, and eggs.

Even though the substances in this chemical “family” differ, their properties are very similar. This makes it easy for a PFAS producer to swap from one regulated substance to an unregulated “cousin”, equally or possibly even more problematic to human health and the environment.

 

We need the universal PFAS ban yesterday

This all shows, yet again, that regulating PFAS one substance at a time is not a viable way forward. The EU Commission’s commitment to ban all uses of PFAS – except for when the use is essential – is a crucial aim to maintain.

There are many discussions on which PFAS uses that should actually be deemed essential. We encourage the Commission, as well as individual Member States and the European Parliament, to stay strong and be highly restrictive in this matter.

No matter what the chemical or manufacturing industry says, PFAS is not essential in cosmetics, cookware, furniture, clothes, dental floss, ski wax, or basically any other consumer products.

“Every granted essential use exception of PFAS comes at an extremely high price: the contamination of our planet, environment, and bodies”

It’s important to remember that every granted essential use exception of PFAS comes at an extremely high price: the contamination of our planet, environment, and bodies.

Until these notorious chemicals are banned from production, any and all testing – as well as experimental-level destruction of a certain amount of a certain kind of rounded up PFAS – remain solutions equivalent to placing a band-aid on a huge, gushing wound, while allowing the real culprits to walk free.