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Food Safety

Bamboo-zling

EU Enforcement Action on plastic Food Contact Materials (FCM) made of bamboo ‘powder’

About the action

The European Commission, together with the EU Food Fraud Network joined forces with the customs authorities for this action aiming at putting an end to the illegal import, trade and advertising of plastic articles sold as food contact materials, e.g. tableware, containing bamboo and other unauthorised plant-based additives. Most plant-based additives, including bamboo, have not been safety assessed for their use in plastics. Some therefore may present a health risk.

21 countries joined the one-year lasting coordinated action, which led to a significant increase in the identification of illegal and fraudulent products. The countries involved in the action were: Austria, Belgium, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Norway, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia and Spain.

748 cases – a case can be a border rejection, a control on the market by the competent authorities or a control on Ecommerce, leading to destruction, recall or taking off the market of the concerned product - of plastic food contact materials containing unauthorised bamboo powder were notified by the action participants. Of these 748 cases, 644 were products found on the EU market, while 104 were goods rejected at the EU border, with a majority of illegal products coming from China. Producers, importers and distributers were required by Member States’ authorities to immediately withdraw items from the market.

What is the issue?

Plastic materials intended for contact with food may only be manufactured with substances which have been thoroughly assessed and are authorised in accordance with Regulation (EU) 10/2011 on plastic food contact material.

Over 900 substances such as monomers, additives and polymer production aids are now authorised and included in the same Regulation, under the Union list of authorised substances (chapter II, section 1, article 5)

However, plastic FCMs are being sold in the EU market containing bamboo and other plant-based additives, which are not authorised and are not on the Union list. Placing on the market plastic FCMs containing those additives is therefore illegal.

Nonetheless, despite the increase in RASFFs warnings and communication on the issue, the European Commission and the EU Member States have noticed that the illegal sales continues.

Illegal - Plastic FCM containing “bamboo” additive

Plastic FCM containing “bamboo” additive

Legal - Cutlery made of 100% bamboo

Cutlery made of 100% bamboo

Possible public health risks through exceedance of specific migration limits

The use of bamboo and other unauthorized ground plant materials in plastic FCM may represent a public health risk as this may allow the accelerated degradation of certain plastics. This can lead to substances migrating from the plastic into food.

For example, as “bamboo”-products containing plastic FCMs are being used, the plastic degrades and melamine and formaldehyde can migrate to food in risky amounts, which exceed the safe limits (called: Specific Migration Limits) laid down in Regulation (EU) 10/2011.

Also, without compliance and documentation it is not possible to verify the origin of the materials. For instance, it may prove impossible to understand if it was new or recycled bamboo that was used for the manufacture of a given tableware.

False claims

When placed on the market, these products are often presented as ‘natural’, ‘eco-friendly’, ‘compostable’ or ‘recyclable’. These misleading false claims are meant to trick the environmentally-conscious consumers into buying something they believe to be sustainable.

This allegedly sustainable alternative to the plastic materials, however, is in fact precisely made of plastic, where the bamboo or other plant-based additive is added only as a filler (to give it volume and shape). This practice is making the plastic non-recyclable and even less eco-friendly.

In addition, these are often labelled as “organic” products. Food contact materials based on plants and not produced with the intention of being sold as food, are outside the scope of the Regulation (EC) No 834/2007 and cannot bear the EU organic logo. When produced from organic agricultural ingredients, the products at stake can refer to organic, if this is not misleading information. The evaluation of the misleading aspect has to be done on a case by case basis and this is mainly the responsibility of the MS.

What is next?

Enforcement did not stop. The EU-coordinated action ended, and although official reporting is no longer taking place, Competent Authorities in the Member States are maintaining their vigilance and controls. The European Commission will also further assist EU countries in ensuring that these products are no longer placed on the EU market.

Q&A

Common questions asked on this subject.

Download the Q&As in PDF format:

EU Enforcement Action - Bamboozling - Q&As
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Meeting reports

2022

2021