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European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection

Food Safety and Packaging

Launch of International Good Manufacturing Practice Standard for Corrugated and Solid Board

Brussels, 29 October 2003

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The packaging industry is perhaps somewhat underestimated an unsung hero of the industrial world.

We take for granted when we open a box, a carton or a tin that its contents, whatever they may be, will be in peak condition.

We seldom think of the technology, the design and the ingenuity that ensures the protection, the safety and also the appeal of what we choose to buy.

So it is a great pleasure for me to be here today to launch the International Good Manufacturing Practice Standard for Corrugated and Solid Board and to applaud your admirable efforts to ensure that safe and effective packaging standards are met whenever and wherever required.

Today I will focus on food safety and food packaging, but before doing so I must acknowledge, in the broader context of consumer protection, the importance of safe packaging materials.

I am always keen to promote the benefits of the single market and in particular to break down barriers and attitudes towards cross border selling to enable the single market to reach its full potential to the joint benefit of consumers and business. The packaging industry plays an important role towards facilitating the smooth functioning of the market.

Food safety was the key public concern when I took office back in 1999. To meet that concern we set out a vision in the landmark White Paper on Food Safety of January 2000 to build a food safety system fit for the 21st century.

A comprehensive list of actions sought to regain consumer confidence and transform the image of the European food industry.

Four years later I am pleased to say that we have made enormous progress in our quest to make Europe's food supply the safest in the world. Indeed the basic modernised framework is nearly complete.

  • The general food Regulation has been in force for nearly two years;

  • The European Food Safety Authority is now up and running;

  • The ambitious food hygiene package is nearing final political agreement;

  • Specific measures on GMOs, TSEs and zoonoses, animal by products, labelling of food and feed, undesirable substances in feed, pesticides, additives and the withdrawal of antibiotics have all been introduced;

  • Proposals on feed hygiene and official controls for food and feed are passing through the legislative process.

The principal underlying theme running through all of these initiatives is to address food safety at every step throughout the entire food chain “from farm to fork” covering not just food production and food processing but also its transport and packaging.

In the modern world food is often moved vast distances between the point of production and the point where it is consumed. Within this context packaging plays an important role: providing information, facilitating consumer choice and, crucially, protecting food thus assuring its quality and safety when it reaches the consumer.

All packaging materials need to be safe both from the perspective of environmental or accidental contamination of their contents and from the possible migration of packaging constituents into the food.

Today, all manufactured materials and articles intended for food contact placed on the market are required to comply with the principles of Framework Directive 89/109.

Allow me to briefly remind you of these principles, which apply, of course, to your products.

Any material that comes into contact with food must not release substances which may endanger human health or deteriorate foods.

The food industry together with the packaging industry is responsible for complying with these requirements and is required to keep a written declaration attesting this compliance. A symbol with a fork and a glass should accompany an empty article to inform the consumer that the article may be put in contact with foods.

In addition, specific Directives have been adopted to cover single groups of materials and articles, and individual substances or groups of substances used in the manufacture of materials and articles intended for food contact.

For instance legislation on ceramic articles is fully harmonised. And plastics too which constitute more than half of the all food packaging materials, have largely been brought under harmonised control.

Other directives have been adopted as urgent measures when new findings have revealed unacceptable contamination of food by a dangerous substance originating from packaging. This was the case with vinyl-chloride, released by plastic bottles, and nitrosamines contained in teats and soothers.

The directives lay down very strict rules regarding the release of substances from the packaging into the food. Such substances must not be detectable in food. The Commission intends to continue its programme of harmonisation in this area, as there remain some groups of materials that are not yet covered by EU legislation.

With a view to food quality and safety, innovation in food packaging is evolving all the time. Recent trends include “active packaging”, which aims to extend the shelf life of packaged food and “intelligent packaging” which monitors the condition of packaged foods.

These new materials, which did not exist when the Framework Directive was adopted in 1989, should also be regulated to ensure consumer protection and a true single market.

We will therefore soon propose to the European Parliament and to the Council a new Framework Directive allowing the introduction onto the market of “active” and "intelligent" packaging. The proposal will also set up traceability requirements so that food contact materials can be identified at all stages of production and distribution.

The EU does not, as yet, regulate specifically the sector of paper and board the subject of today's event; although the general rules of Framework Directive apply.

The Council of Europe is finalising its long-running activity in this area. The Commission services have contributed intensively to this initiative and we intend to use the outcome as reference for future EU harmonisation of this sector.

However, to compliment and reinforce our legislative initiatives, it is important that professional organisations take the necessary steps to ensure the correct application, in specific cases, of the general rules set out in the legislation.

I therefore warmly welcome the International Good Manufacturing Practice Standard for Corrugated and Solid Board, which will serve as a useful complement to related EU initiatives and will play a key role in ensuring safe packaging standards are met.

We believe that the Standard will enhance the safety and reliability of corrugated and solid board. Through consolidating different national hygiene standards it will also encourage transparency in the board production process and provide a sound basis from which to adapt to future legislative developments.

The work carried out by the European Federation of Corrugated Board Manufacturers (FEFCO) and the European Solid Board Organisation (ESBO) provides a model example of a confident industry that recognises its responsibilities, that knows where it is heading, and that is ready to meet both the demands of its customers and of current and future legislation.

The International Standard is very much in keeping with our European recipe for food safety based on the principles of sound science, clear rules, proper enforcement and transparent communication.

These principles are central to our efforts to gaining lasting consumer confidence in the safety of food.

Thank you.

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