Supermarkets under pressure to axe toxic chemicals

Supermarkets are being urged to remove food packaging containing a group of industrial chemicals from shelves amid growing concern they risk reducing the efficacy of vaccines and causing long-term environmental harm.

Almost 12,000 people have signed a petition urging the UK’s ten largest supermarkets to end the use of PFAS, a group of chemicals added to paper and board and compostable food packaging to repel oil and water.

The petition was coordinated by environmental charity Fidra which highlighted how public concern around PFAS has been growing in recent months following mounting scientific evidence linking exposure to immune system suppression, reduced vaccine efficacy and an increased risk of developing severe covid-19 symptoms.

PFAS (per and poly-fluorinated alkyl substances) are a group of over 4,500 industrial chemicals associated with a wide range of health and environmental issues, from cancer in humans to neurological problems in animals. They are often referred to as “forever chemicals” because they can take over 1000 years to breakdown.

A report from Fidra last year found high levels of potentially toxic chemicals in supermarket packaging as well as that of high street brands including Caffè Nero, Costa, Greggs, Pret a Manger, Starbucks and Dominos. The study revealed significant levels of forever chemicals present in 90% of food packaging tested including bakery and cookie bags.

With the food sector heavily focused on moving away from single-use plastic, Fidra warned the market share of these alternative forms of packaging is likely to increase dramatically.

It said UK legislation is needed to prevent the use of the chemicals across all non-essential uses. In the meantime, it urged supermarkets to take immediate action to prevent the continued use of PFAS in food packaging.

The EU has already committed to ban all PFAS across all sectors, unless their use is considered essential to society.

Global food companies such as McDonalds and Nestlé are also working towards targets to remove all PFAS from their food packaging.

Dr Kerry Dinsmore of Fidra said: “Many UK supermarkets are already committed to reducing their single-use plastic, something we fully support at Fidra. However, supermarkets must ensure they don’t undermine the environmental benefits of their current sustainability drive by simply replacing one visible pollutant with a hidden, and more toxic, chemical alternative. PFAS must have no place in the future of the UK’s sustainable food packaging.”

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