Food companies may be forced to change printing norms

The Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) is working to update the current standard (IS 15495) for printing ink for food packaging and several harmful chemicals, including toluene, may be banned with the new standards coming into effect.

John Sarkar | TNN
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NEW DELHI: Packaged food companies in India, including ITC, HUL, PepsiCo and Nestle, may soon have to change their printing and packaging norms due to safety issues with certain chemicals currently being used to print labels and packages.

The Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) is working to update the current standard (IS 15495) for printing ink for food packaging and several harmful chemicals, including toluene, may be banned with the new standards coming into effect.

Toluene, a chemical used in paint thinners, has been known to cause liver and kidney damage in humans. It has been banned in the food industry in several countries, while in others such as Sri Lanka, printing associations have voluntarily taken a stand to shun it.

“Around 80% FMCG companies in India still use toluene-based solvents in packaging materials,” said Ashish Pradhan, CEO of the Indian arm of Siegwerk, a German firm that supplies printing ink solutions to companies.

In reply to an email, a Nestle India spokesperson said, “As a responsible corporate citizen, we are always committed to comply with all existing regulations and guidelines. As regards to your query, we ensure that all packaging material coming in direct contact with food is toluene free.” The company plans to stop using toluene altogether by 2018.

An HUL spokesperson said, “At Unilever, we design all our packaging based on product requirements, using global and local guidelines, meeting consumer safety norms.”

However, studies have revealed that toluene can migrate between layers of packaging. ITC and PepsiCo did not reply to emails from TOI.

If the new norms are put in place, printing experts said, FMCG companies have to mandate the usage of toluene-free inks in their technical specifications of packaging material to their packaging suppliers. For instance, Swiss food giant Nestle has done the same in certain markets.

“For the packaging suppliers, there is no requirement for any major/capital investment to run toluenefree inks,” said the industry experts. “The current printing equipment, which runs toluene-based inks, can also run toluene-free inks. It is difficult to estimate the cost implication of this transition as it depends on several factors like type of print job, type of equipment, printing expenditure, apart from ink cost. Having said this, it is important to keep in mind that the ink costs are a fraction of the total packaging cost of any product.”

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