Consider not only the carrier or "vehicle" as it is termed in the industry (soybean oil or petroleum distillate or derivative) but the pigments themselves. A bit of Web digging will provide the reader with ample information about the toxicity of some of these pigments.
- Oily food would be expected to pick up
much more pigment from newsprint than
non-oily food such as green leafy
- In the US and elsewhere, many produce
items such as tomatoes and apples are
coated with edible wax to extend shelf
life. These products would best be
placed in the oily food category.
One issue is that in much of the Third World newsprint is used by street vendors as a low cost or zero cost container for produce. If one vendor decided to use safe packaging and had to absorb the cost in order to remain competitive with other vendors using newspaper, such a vendor would struggle or even be out of business within a short time.
A broader view of the issue should include the use of recycled paper for food containers. The category includes bags, sheet wrap, uncoated trays, bowls and cups, even napkins. Although the areas of containers made from recycled paper in direct contact with food do not have inked surfaces, the paper itself contains residual amounts of inks. In addition, source material used for the manufacture of recycled paper earmarked for the food industry may include heavily inked magazine paper, inkjet and laser printed paper. I once inquired about the destruction process of the floppy diskette of yesteryear by a paper shredding service which offers such. Apparently, one or two individual diskettes on occasion are acceptable in the recycled paper stream. It is likely that other contaminants make their way into the paper.
The recycled paper industry depends greatly on the food container end use. I do not wish to damage this industry in any way; in fact, I would like to give it all of my encouragement. However, from a food safety standpoint I am raising issues that have been on my mind for quite some time. As a complete outsider to the industry, and one who has not looked into readily available information very much, I would have to admit I know little about the actual recycling process including source separation, purification or cleanup of the paper source for the food industry, as well as other process and product features.
Nevertheless I would like to see the availability of virgin paper, made in dedicated lines in one or more paper mills, for paper products for the food industry. Paper product manufacturers and vendors or retailers could offer virgin paper in their product lineup either as a more expensive alternative to recycled paper or as lower cost alternative, depending on the marketing situation. In the past, recycled paper was a buzzword and an expensive alternative. The situation may now be regarded differently, with a virtually pure, even USDA Organic, source of virgin paper for food packaging products, especially products such as bowls and trays in direct contact with prepared food. Instead of damage to the paper industry, the idea of pure virgin paper may represent a marketing opportunity in a new direction.
The use of newsprint for wrapping produce will not kill you immediately but would be expected to place undue stress on the liver and other organs and tissues in the body involved with the detoxification process. Nevertheless, many individuals live healthy lives to great ages despite lifelong exposure to newsprint. The entire picture is complex and enters the area of individual outcome, outside of the scope of this discussion. However, health problems in general should be incrementally lower over the long run, enough to counter the higher cost of virgin paper in terms of reduced medical costs, but government involvement may be needed in certain countries and in certain situations (see second paragraph below).
An associated issue is the use of BPA (Bisphenol A) as a colorant binder on thermal print paper. In the food retail industries (stores and restaurants) receipt paper is almost exclusively thermal. It is nearly impossible to avoid exposure to BPA, an endocrine disrupter and carcinogen, as it is absorbed directly into the skin within seconds upon handling receipts as well as released into the air as dust from the flexing and bending action of the receipts. Additional exposure is gained upon handling food after handling a receipt without washing hands.
Credit should be given to the supermarket chains that have switched to using BPA-free receipt paper; a question remains regarding the safety of the substitute for BPA. A switching back to the more labor intensive dot matrix printers used a generation ago would likely improve collective health enough to "pay" for itself over the long run. The issue of switching back, however, is the same as the issue described above of the use of newsprint to contain food. The vendor(s) offering the older, healthier alternative place themselves at a competitive disadvantage. This situation is precisely where government may need to step in with either regulation (or enforcement of existing regulation) or recommendation such as direct government-paid advertising. Another avenue to government involvement is a "seal" of approval; a widely used example is the USDA Organic symbol which may in fact be used as a marketing tool.
Custom printed perishable food package labels are typically made of thermal paper stock. Examples are self-stick labels showing "Sell Before" date, prices and other information on packages of produce, meat and take-out prepared food. Another major source of BPA is the lining material used in cans. A number of manufacturers and brands have made the switch to BPA-free cans.