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Hamish Champ is the editor of PRW. When not doinghis day job he finds time to ride his motorcycle, listen to Deep Purple and take his 12 year-old son to the cinema/park/football/pub...

Plastic gets it in the neck. Again.

Posted on 4 March 2015

The British Plastics Federation (BPF) has rightly mounted a robust rebuttal of what a Times newspaper article called the effect of ‘toxic’ packaging in the grocery market.

True, the Times piece, which appeared on Monday, highlighted what it called innovative packaging, the sort that keeps food products fresher for longer on our shelves.

But it also laid into the packaging sector, particularly the plastics element, which allows this innovation to happen, picking out Bisphenol A for special treatment.

What bothered me about the article was not so much ‘plastic bashing’, which was predictable and one takes on board with a certain world-weariness, but the lack of any input from the industry.

The lack of a sector view lent unquestioning authority to the article. Which was no doubt the point.

The packaging industry – and in deed the plastics sector that supplies it – is on a hiding to nothing with articles and agendas such as this.

I expect Joanna Blythman, the author of the piece, has the same sort of faith in her field as those working in the plastics industry do about theirs.

A key issue here is that of public perception.

In its response to the Times piece the BPF points to scientific studies, etc, in order to repudiate Ms Blythman’s argument that chemicals contained in certain packaging products do specific harm. This is all to the good.

The problem is that health scares and outright scandals involving the food manufacturing sector – salmonella in eggs, infected chicken and horse meat sold as beef – have a way of searing (if you’ll excuse the unintentioned culinary pun) themselves into the consumer’s psyche and staying there.

Many consumers no longer trust supermarket chains, all of whom are slashing costs and prices to persuade us to shop with them over their competitors, to tell us the truth about all the products they sell.

I don’t doubt that some people reading Ms Blythman’s article in the Times on Monday would have thought something like “bloody plastics industry, poisoning us with all that evil packaging”.

The plastics sector, as I said, is on a hiding to nothing here: ignore things like the Times piece and the ‘fire’ blazes on, consuming everything in its path. Or counter such arguments and stand accused of misleading the public. Damned if it does, damned if it doesn’t, etc.

Still, the BPF has responded and that’s good in my book. Better to make the industry’s case than say nothing.

Perhaps it could offer the Times an article offering the industry’s contribution to the modern world in which we live, complete with pointers to scientific evidence that repudiates the health-endangering effects of the products we use on a daily basis and which the newspaper appears to believe in.

Perhaps it already has. We shall see.

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