New Delhi: Packaged food companies in India will now have to stop using a few chemicals, including toluene, widely used in printing texts and images on materials used for external packaging.

The Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS), in an internal meeting on 25 July, has decided to restrict use of toluene, titanium acetylacetonate and phthalates in printing of packaging materials used for food products, according to Partha Pratim Sanyal, independent consultant and convener at BIS Panel on packaging inks. The above mentioned materials will be included in the existing exclusion list in the current standard (IS 15495).

Toluene, which is a chemical that is used in paint thinners, is known to migrate between layers of packaging and potentially cause damage to liver and kidneys in humans. Though widely used in India to print on packaging materials, toluene is banned in food industry across the developed nations. On the other hand, industry associations in smaller countries, such as Sri Lanka, have voluntarily stopped using toluene in printing of packaging materials used as food packets.

“It is a big step forward by the regulatory body which will push the industry to move towards healthy and safe packaging," said Ashish Pradhan, chief executive officer, Siegwerk India, the local entity of the German firm that supplies printing ink solutions. According to Pradhan, about 80% of inks used in printing of packaging materials by packaged goods companies in India are currently toluene-based.

“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," a Nestlé India spokesperson said in e-mailed response.

“At Unilever, we design all our packaging based on product requirements using global and local guidelines meeting consumer safety norms," said a spokesperson at Hindustan Unilever Ltd.

According to Pradhan of Siegwerk India, there would not be any “major capital investment" for companies to go for only toluene-free inks, apart from the marginal increase in cost of printing ink. “Printing equipment that currently uses toluene-based solutions for printing can run toluene-free ink solutions," Pradhan said, adding that Siewerk has already stopped using Toluene in its factory at Bhiwadi.

Emails to Kolkata-based ITC Ltd and PepsiCo India Holdings Pvt. Ltd, seeking comments remained unanswered until press time.

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