Recycled cardboard food packaging: cancer link?

Posted by Nicole Eckersley on 9th March 2011

cereal aisleSwiss scientists have linked cardboard packaging made from recycled newspapers to health complaints in lab rats, ranging from the inflammation of internal organs to cancer.Researchers at the Food Safety Laboratory in Zurich said that mineral oils in ink from newspapers that are then recycled can make their way into foods such as cereal, pasta and rice – even passing through inner plastic bags.

The researchers analysed a total of 119 products bought from German supermarkets last year. According to their findings a majority of samples – approximately 90 – contained traces of mineral oils higher than agreed levels.

Toxicological testing had linked these mineral oils to an increased risk of health complaints in laboratory rats, the researchers added.

However, a spokesperson for the UK’s Food Standards Agency said there is no need for immediate action and emphasised that a “great quantity” of contaminated food would have to be consumed to present any significant threat to health.

“The research has uncovered an elevated quantity of these mineral hydrocarbons. But we are still talking extremely low quantities. If you have a healthy, varied diet there is very little chance that consumption of foods packaged in recycled cardboard will have an impact on health,” the spokesperson said.

The FSA is carrying out its own investigation into the presence of mineral oils in food packaging and is expected to report back in the summer.

Meanwhile, UK industry body The Food and Drink Federation has called for further investigation into the issue. “We understand that the information currently available is limited and we are working with the Food Standards Agency, food manufacturers, retailers and the packaging supply chain to gather more information,” Barbara Gallani, FDF director of food safety and science, said.

According to a BBC report, Associated British Foods-owned muesli maker Jordans has already stopped using recycled cardboard in its packaging. “As an environmentally-conscious business, Jordans takes the decision reluctantly, but felt it was sensible,” the company said. Jordans was not immediately available for further comment.

Meanwhile, cereal giant Kellogg has said that it is “looking at its packaging” to reduce mineral oil content while also meeting its environmental commitments.

“It’s important to note the Food Standards Agency has said there’s no need for immediate action,” Kellogg said. “Whilst there are strict regulations when it comes to the packaging of food, there is currently no direction from the UK government about mineral oils. We will immediately follow any such guidance once it has been given.”

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