Composite materials containing bamboo powder and melamine are facing strong headwinds on the EU market. Several issues, including excessive migration of formaldehyde and melamine, misleading advertising and use of potentially non-authorized additives have caught the attention of market surveillance and consumer stakeholders.
Recently, there has been increased activity from market surveillance authorities to check food contact materials and products (FCM) containing bamboo powder or fiber with melamine resin as the structural and shaping compound. Typical products on the EU/EEA market are bowls, cups and tableware.
The Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) shows more notifications for such products in the first half of 2019 than the whole of 2018. Typically, notifications are based on excessive migration of formaldehyde and melamine. These notifications are based on the fact that bamboo powder-melamine composite materials and products (bambooware) are deemed to be plastic products, which are governed by Regulation (EU) No. 10/2011, and must comply with existing specific migration limits (SML) which are 15 mg/kg for formaldehyde and 2.5 mg/kg for melamine.
Also, in Germany the consumer stakeholder magazine Stiftung Warentest issued a report on 12 bamboo cups where excessive migration has been found for more than 50% of the tested products; especially when used with hot acidic food.
Manufacturers of bambooware must follow good manufacturing practice to overcome excess migration limits, and independent laboratory test results on such products indicate that applicable SMLs can indeed be met and best in class products do not pose imminent food safety concerns, if consumers follow the user instructions (e.g. not to use it in a microwave).
Other concerns of authorities and Stiftung Warentest relate to misleading labeling/advertising (wording such as sustainable, recycle, natural, organic, compostable…) which could lead consumers to think an actual plastic FCM product consist only of natural material such as bamboo. The German Federal Institute of Risk Assessment (BfR) commodities commission addressed this, among other critical points in its protocol of the 21st meeting under TOP10.
Another issue with bambooware is potentially non-authorized filler bamboo powder, which raises concerns on marketability, since Regulation (EU) No. 10/2011 requires that only substances included in the Union list of authorized substances, set out in Annex I to that Regulation, may be used intentionally for manufacturing. Union list entry No. 96 covers untreated natural wood flour and fibers but bamboo is not explicitly listed. The European Commission became aware of this potential authorization conflict and asked the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to re-assess entry No. 96. This is currently in progress, under mandate M-2019-0033, and an EFSA report is expected in December 2019.
The European Commission highlights the necessity for Regulation (EU) No. 10/2011 to provide an appropriate framework to provide the Competent Authorities of the Member States and industry with a clear framework to determine the compliance of such biomass/plastic composite materials, as these natural additives may not be clearly defined under FCM No. 96. Thus, some Member States would interpret such additives include many wood-like materials, like bamboo.
Business operators may therefore take the same position and would not apply for authorization of bamboo. Other market surveillance authorities may notice that bamboo is not a wood, and the plastic material would therefore not be compliant as bamboo is not an authorized additive. As an example, the Ministry of Environment and Consumer Protection of the German Federal State of Saarland follows the stricter interpretation and objected to 14 out of 15 tested samples due to their material composition which used a non-authorized additive. It is expected that EFSA’s update of the risk assessment for wood flour and fibers will help to settle this interpretation.
Patrokles QA Manager – Quality Assurance Done Right.
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