Substances used in packing, storing and processing consumer foods may be harmful to humans in the long term, according to environmental scientists.
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In an article published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, a group of environmental scientists say far too little is known about food contact materials, or FCMs, substances like can coatings, plastics, lid sealants and others that can potentially leach into our foods during the packaging, storage, processing or preparation processes.
"Whereas the science for some of these substances is being debated and policy makers struggle to satisfy the needs of stakeholders, consumers remain exposed to these chemicals daily, mostly unknowingly," the authors argue.
There are more than 4,000 FCMs used in commercial food processes, warn authors Jane Muncke, John Peterson Myers, Martin Scheringer and Miquel Porta. These include chemicals such as formaldehyde, a substance known to cause cancer in large enough doses, and that is used in most plastic soda bottles. Other FCM-related chemicals including bisphenol A, tributyltin, triclosan, and phthalates, which have been shown to disrupt hormone production.
The aim of the paper, the scientists argue, is not to scare consumers, but to show the disparity in the amount of usable science on the subject and the cause for reasonable concern. They acknowledge that drawing scientific connections between FCM exposure and negative health outcomes will be extremely difficult; exposure is very hard to trace and will vary widely across different population groups, they say.
The scientists say similar obstacles once stood in the way of proving long-term health effects of small particulates in the air. "Since most foods are packaged, and the entire population is likely to be exposed, it is of utmost importance that gaps in knowledge are reliably and rapidly filled." ■