food packaging

A study has found that nearly all French people are contaminated with heavy metals such as arsenic and mercury, and that exposure levels are higher than in other European countries.

A RFI report said:

France’s national health agency Santé Publique France said smoking and the consumption of fish and seafood products had contributed to the findings, published recently.

The presence of 27 potentially harmful metals were measured in the bodies of children and adults, and cross-checked with data from a decade ago, as part of a so-called Esteban health study that took into account environmental and nutritional factors.

Blood, urine and hair samples were taken from a representative sample of 3,600 people aged between 6 and 74 years, while information was gathered on their lifestyle and food consumption habits.

Between 97 and 100 percent of participants were found to be exposed to heavy metals, depending on the substance.

Santé Publique France said the findings indicated that the entire French population was affected.

“The levels measured were higher than those found in most foreign countries (Europe and North America) except for nickel and copper,” the agency added.

Cadmium Danger

As well as an increase in arsenic and mercury, the results showed a worrying increase in cadmium levels – a metal that has been recognized as a carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

Cadmium is a cumulative toxicant, which means the risk of adverse effects is linked to the dose that accumulates in the body over time. It is harmful to the kidneys, bones and respiratory system, and is suspected of being an endocrine disruptor.

The study found that nearly half of the French population had a cadmium concentration level higher than that recommended by the French National Health Security Agency.

While cadmium is naturally present in soil, air and water, it can also be found in certain industrial and agricultural processes, such as phosphate fertilizers.

“This is particularly true of fertilizers from Morocco, which are rich in cadmium … and which are particularly used in France,” said Pierre Souvet, president of the French Environmental Health Association.

Santé Publique France urged people to diversify their food sources, particularly for fish, to avoid excessive exposure to heavy metals.

Over 7,000 Food Products Recalled in France due to Carcinogens

Another RFI report (https://www.rfi.fr/en/france/20210616-over-7-000-food-products-recalled-in-france-due-to-carcinogens-sesame-health) said on June 16, 2021:

Several thousand food products containing sesame seeds are to be withdrawn from sale and recalled, according to the latest list drawn up by the French competition authority (DGCCRF), after France’s scientific research body said the ingredient in question could cause cancer or abnormalities.

Savory cakes, breads, burgers, rusks, cereals, ice creams and sorbets, teas and coffees, ready meals, spreads, oils and sauces, sweet biscuits, cheese, flours and cooking aids: the products concerned by the recall are from a wide range of categories and brands.

French health authorities were informed at the beginning of September 2020, by their Belgian colleagues, of imported batches of sesame seeds whose ethylene oxide content exceeds the maximum regulatory limit.

Contaminated Sesame

Ethylene oxide is used in the food industry to sterilize spices and seeds, including sesame, which is present in many products.

It is listed by the French National Institute for Scientific Research (INRS) as “capable of causing cancer” and “inducing genetic abnormalities”.

The French competition authority (DGCCRF) has undertaken the necessary investigations to determine the origin of this contamination.

Pending the results of these investigations, they are withdrawing all products that may contain contaminated sesame seeds, but also psyllium and spices, which are potentially involved.

France Shames Fast Food Giants over Recycling Failures

On July 2, 2021, another RFI report (https://www.rfi.fr/en/france/20210702-france-shames-fast-food-giants-over-recycling-failures-mcdonalds-kfc-packaging-plastic-polystyrene-waste-environment) said:

France’s Ecological Transition Minister has named and shamed more than a dozen fast food giants who have failed to live up to commitments to sort and recycle their immense waste.

The list of well-known companies – many of whom spend millions on public relations every year – was published on the Ministry of Ecological Transition’s website Thursday.

Minister Barbara Pompili warned of sanctions and even restaurant closures if the offending brands, which included the likes of McDonald’s, KFC, La Croissanterie and Paul, did not clean up their act.

In 2019, a commitment charter was signed by 16 fast food chains representing 30,000 outlets who serve nearly 6 billion meals each year.

The companies promised to comply with a five-stream sorting system that offered dedicated bins for paper/cardboard, metal, plastic, glass and wood waste, plus a separate bin for biowaste.

Companies ‘on the edge’

Under the rules, 90 percent of a company’s outlets were to have the sorting and recycling system in place by January 1 – rising to 100 percent by the end of this year. Companies were also obliged to issue status reports every six months.

However Pompili told France Inter Thursday that only three brands – Cojean, Burger King and Subway – were following the rules.

“Most companies do not respect them, and are just on the edge,” she added.

While brands such as Class’Croute, Brioche Dorée and Exki were between 84 and 88 percent compliant, pizza chains Domino’s and Five Guys were at the bottom of the pile – the latter only 16 percent compliant.

Other big names that did not make the cut included Starbucks, Pomme de Pain, La Mie Câline and the Jour Healthy Groupe.

Polystyrene ban

The naming and shaming of waste offenders comes as a final ban on polystyrene packaging took effect on 1 July.

Mostly used for takeaway kebabs, the polystyrene packets were prohibited in January under a law aimed at phasing out single-use plastics, with retailers given a six-month grace period to use up existing stocks.

During a visit to a kebab shop in the Paris suburb of Nanterre, Pompili explained that polystyrene took a millennia to completely biodegrade in nature, compared to 450 years for a plastic bag.

Vendors must now turn to recyclable alternatives such as cardboard, pulp or expanded polypropylene boxes.

“Kebab boxes are somewhat emblematic because every year 350 million kebabs are consumed; that’s 11 of them every per second,” Pompili said.

“We won’t find a perfect alternative solution right away, but we’ve taken a step forward.”

Food Brands Shamed for Selling Packets ‘Full of Nothing’ to French Consumers

An earlier report by RFI (https://www.rfi.fr/en/france/20200917-food-brands-shamed-for-selling-half-empty-products-in-french-supermarkets-foodwatch-pleindevide) said on September 17, 2020:

Seven major grocery brands sold in French supermarkets have been accused of “food fraud” by a consumer advocacy group that on launched a petition against what it called excessive and environmentally irresponsible packaging.

The European NGO Foodwatch said products made by Lipton, Léa Nature, Sojasun, Monoprix, Barilla, Carrefour and Leclerc were “full of nothing” and intended to dupe customers into thinking they were buying more food than was actually there.

Monoprix, a well-regarded French retailer, was criticized for placing overly large labels on its herb jars to hide the fact they were a quarter empty.

“It’s all about the judicious positioning of the label and the opacity of the cap,” Foodwatch said, adding that while Monoprix’s spice jars cost less than those of some competitors, the price per kilo was actually much higher.

Ongoing complaints against disproportionately large packaging – including from companies purporting to have strong ecological values – spurred Foodwatch to launch its Full of Emptiness campaign targeting specific brands and retailers.

“This is happening in every aisle, in every supermarket and across every type of product in France,” campaign manager Camille Dorioz told RFI.

“It’s not just about misleading customers – who feel they’ve been had after buying a large product with very little contents – but the environmental repercussions are also unacceptable.”

Consumer groups around the world have long complained of clever packaging tricks being used by companies to mask downsized contents. In turn, retailers have long defended these practices as necessary to maintain profits amid economic difficulty.

Practices not Illegal

While conceding the companies targeted by the petition were not behaving illegally, Dorioz said they were exploiting a “grey area of regulation”, adding that European law clearly states that packaging and marketing practices must not be deliberately misleading.

“We consider oversized packaging to be illegitimate because it is deliberately intended to mislead the consumer.”

Foodwatch said it hoped its petition, which will be emailed to company CEOs with every signature, would help end “abuses” that see up to 60 precent of “nothing” contained in products sold in French supermarkets.

“We’re launching this petition today not only to force these companies to change their practices, but to alert the manufacturers of all brands that consumers have had enough,” Dorioz said.


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