Regulate chemicals in food packaging: Danish minister

Minister for the Environment and Food Jakob Ellemann-Jensen has underlined the need to cut down on packaging containing harmful substances.

Regulate chemicals in food packaging: Danish minister
Photo: jehoede/Depositphotos

The minister’s comments came after the publication of a study on the effect on foetus size of fluorinated compounds in mothers’ blood.

The study, conducted by Aarhus University researchers, concluded that a presence in pregnant women’s blood of the substances, which are found in some types of food packaging as well as in other products, can result in babies being born at a smaller size than normal.

Ellemann-Jensen recently said he would look into the possibility of a national ban on use of the substances in food packaging such as pizza boxes, including whether Denmark would be able to break with EU rules on the area until the European Union changes its own regulation.

“Organic fluorinated compounds, which damage people and the environment, should principally be banned,” the minister said in a written comment to Ritzau.

“I do not know the new study in detail. But my understanding is that it is yet another sign of how problematic these chemicals are, and thereby another reason to continue the Danish battle to regulate them,” he added.

Fluorinated compounds are used in many products, particularly surface treatment including in frying pans, rainproof clothing, shoes, pizza trays and popcorn bags, Ritzau writes.

Previous studies have found the substances to increase risk of miscarriage, obesity and type II diabetes.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in December increased its risk assessment of the two most common fluorinated compounds, PFOS and PFOA.

Researchers said they hope for tighter regulation in the area.

“It is high time that regulation is finally introduced with much-needed regulation, initially of food packaging,” Eva Cecilie Bonefeld-Jørgensen, who worked on the new study, said to Ritzau.

A declaration on all products which contain the compounds is a necessary first step, the researcher said.

Phillippe Grandjean, professor of environmental medicine at the University of Southern Denmark, expressed a similar view.

“Food packaging is just a fraction of the problem. I don’t have much belief in a quick political win through a ban on a limited area. More is needed,” he said to Ritzau.

“The problem became global a long time ago and now affects all of our immune systems,” he said.

READ ALSO: Danish princess eats meal made from surplus in dinner against food waste

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‘We still have a chance’: Danish minister’s relief after Glasgow climate deal

Denmark's climate minister Dan Jørgensen has expressed relief that a meaningful climate change deal was struck in Glasgow last night, after a last minute move by India and China nearly knocked it off course.

'We still have a chance': Danish minister's relief after Glasgow climate deal
Denmark's climate minister Dan Jørgensen speaks at the announcement of the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance in Glasgow on Tuesday. Photo: Andy Buchanan/AFP/Ritzau Scanpix

“For the first time ever, coal and fossil fuel subsidies have been mentioned. I’m very, very happy about that,” he told Denmark’s Politiken newspaper. “But I am also very disappointed that the stronger formulations were removed at the last minute.” 

Late on Saturday, the world’s countries agreed the Glasgow Climate Pact, after negotiations dragged on while governments haggled over phasing out coal. 

Denmark is one of the countries leading the phase out of fossil fuels, formally launching the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance (BOGA) with ten other countries and states at the Glasgow summit on Tuesday, announcing an end to oil exploration last December, and committing to phase out coal by 2030 back in 2017. 

Jørgensen conceded that the deal struck on Saturday was nowhere near far-reaching enough to keep global temperature rises below 1.5C, which scientists have estimated is critical to limiting the impacts of climate change, but he said the decision to hold another summit in Egypt next year meant that this goal could still be reached. 

“The big, good news is that we could have closed the door today. If we had followed the rules, we would only have had to update the climate plans in 2025, and the updates would only apply from 2030,” he said, adding that this would be too late. “Now we can fight on as early as next year. This is very rare under the auspices of the UN.” 

Limiting temperature rises to 1.5C was still possible, he said. 

“We have a chance. The framework is in place to make the right decisions. There was a risk that that framework would not be there.” 

Jørgensen said that he had come close to tears when India launched a last-minute bid to water down the language when it came to coal, putting the entire deal at risk. 

“It was all really about to fall to the ground,” he said. “The assessment was that either the Indians got that concession or there was no agreement.” 

Sebastian Mernild, a climate researcher at the University of Southern Denmark, said he was disappointed by the lack of binding targets and global deadlines in the plan, but said it was nonetheless “a step in the right direction”, particularly the requirement that signatories to the Paris Agreement must tighten their 2030 emissions reduction targets by the end of 2022.

“It’s good that this thing with fossil fuels has got in,” he added. “It’s a pity that you don’t have to phase them out, but only reduce.”

He said the test of whether the Glasgow meeting is a success or failure would not come until the various aspects of the plan are approved and implemented by members states.