What are the implications for non-harmonised food contact materials in Europe?

We interviewed Plastics & Paper in Contact with Foodstuffs 2015 expert speaker - Rachida Semail, a Partner at Keller and Heckman, about the current state of Food Contact Industry and why you shouldn’t’ miss out on this year’s conference.

Rachida Semail is a Partner at Keller and Heckman’s Brussels, Belgium office and heads the firm’s Brussels food packaging practice. She assists clients with food packaging matters, particularly with the establishment of suitable EU status for articles and materials intended for food contact. Rachida has extensive experience on subject matters not harmonized at the EU level, as is the case in much of the food contact sector, where mutual recognition is of paramount importance. She has extensive expertise on matters of food law, particularly in the area of enzymes, flavoring, and food additive clearances, of particular relevance to active packaging. Rachida has also advised clients on product recall and related liability issues.

During the interview, Rachida shares with us that increased regulatory changes in Europe could create significant challenges for industry: “We have seen increasing regulatory activities at national level, including revised or new food-contact legislation across the continent. These activities, in the absence of harmonisation, create significant trade barriers for companies seeking to market their products throughout Europe.”

Rachida elaborates on how Europe is not the only area to be affected by changes: “Significant legislative activities are also occurring around the world, including most significantly, the work in China to update and revise the national standards that apply to food contact materials and articles. These world-wide regulatory changes create significant challenges for the industry to continue business while ensuring compliance with constantly evolving legislation.”

The changing regulatory landscape is considered a substantial threat to the food contact materials market: “Products compliant today may not be compliant tomorrow, even if they do not present any health or safety concerns.  Business operators must continue to track these regulatory developments to ensure continued regulatory compliance of their products so that they are not excluded from important marketing opportunities.”

In the upcoming  Plastics & Paper in Contact with Foodstuffs 2015 conference, Rachida will discuss harmonisation of regulations for paper and board food contact materials. She states that national legislation is very limited in the EU Member, with particular importance placed on the German BfR Recommendations. “They are widely respected and are often viewed by the industry as contractually or commercially binding. In principle it is possible to lawfully market food-contact paper in Germany as well as in Member States that do not have specific requirements on food-contact paper, by simply demonstrating compliance with the Framework Regulation; however, in practice, operators require compliance with the BfR Recommendation which can be challenging.  It is quite hard to overcome this situation.”

She points out that there are barriers to harmonisation of paper and board FCMs at a European level: “Commercially, many rely on the German BfR as the basis for compliance, and the Recommendations have become the de facto standard for paper and board.  The issuance of the roadmap from the European Commission has identified some industry sectors where there was a possible need for harmonisation, such as in the paper sector. However, there seems to be a lack of political willingness at the European Commission level to move forward with harmonisation. This has caused some frustrations within certain Member States, and this is why we have seen increasing legislative activity at national level.”

Rachida also outlines her prediction for progress in the area. “Based on the outcome of the roadmap, development of legislative proposals for an EU specific measure applicable to paper and board are a distinct possibility.  However, until there is a clear political willingness within the European Commission coupled with additional resources to fund the effort and increased the staff at the Commission and EFSA, we believe that the prospects of significant advancement in harmonisation appear to be dim.”

Keller and Heckman’s involvement with Smithers Pira’s food contact events goes back a long way and Rachida praises the programmes on offer: “The programme provides a unique opportunity to gather regulators from the Commission and/or from EU Member States, with enforcement authorities and industry representatives to discuss timely and sensitive topics.  There’s something for everyone – with background topics for those new to the industry as well as an in-depth focus on matters of interest to veterans.  Like many of the attendees and speakers, I always look forward to Smithers Pira events for the discussions of interesting topics and excellent networking opportunities.”

You can catch Rachida and other industry leading experts at the Plastics & Paper in Contact with Foodstuffs 2015 conference from 1-4 December at the Pullman Barcelona Skipper Hotel, Spain.