Synthetic chemicals which are used in the processing, packaging and storing of the food we eat could be doing long-term damage to our health, environmental scientists warn.
The concerns have been raised in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, part of the British Medical Journal group.
The scientists claim that tiny amounts of synthetic chemicals leach into food. While these minute quantities in themselves do no harm, no one knows how safe we are from a lifetime’s exposure to the chemicals, such as formaldehyde, through eating food previously wrapped or stored in plastics.
In a commentary piece in the journal the scientists note that some of the chemicals that could cause concern are regulated but this does not prevent their being used widely in food packaging. They say that people who eat packaged or processed foods are likely to be chronically exposed to low levels of these substances throughout their lives.
Far too little is known about the long-term impact and especially about our exposure to such chemicals at critical points in human development, such as in the womb and during early childhood.
The writers, who include Jane Muncke, from the Food Packaging Forum Foundation, in Zurich, say there is cause for concern on several grounds. Chemicals known to be toxic, such as formaldehyde, a cancer causing substance, are legally used in these materials. Formaldehyde is widely present, albeit at low levels, in plastic fizzy drinks bottles and melamine tableware.
Other chemicals known to disrupt hormone production and used in food and drink packaging, include bisphenol A, tributyltin, triclosan, and phthalates. Altogether, more than 400 chemicals are involved.
“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,” they write.
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