The UK has become one of the first countries in the EU to issue draft proposals on enforcing the bloc's new chemicals controls law, due to add to the regulatory cost burden faced by industry.
The UK estimates that the direct cost of to all domestic industry to be £515m over 11 years.
The EU directive, called the Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals (REACH), will apply not only to chemicals manufacturers or suppliers, but to any business that uses chemicals, including the food sector.
The food industry has been holding workshops to determine the extent to which their sector will be affected by the law. In the main it will target the chemicals used in packaging, cleaning and sterilisation, and some processes, such as refrigeration.
The individual member state laws, once implemented, would require information about the characteristics and any hazards associated with a particular chemical.
REACH requires manufacturers, importers, distributors and users who market or use chemicals to register them with a new regulator based in Helsinki, Finland.
Those chemicals that are deemed by the agency to pose a serious hazard could end up being banned or restricted, or may be used only following the grant of a specific "authorisation".
The new European Chemicals Agency will oversee the operation of REACH throughout the EU.
REACH was passed by the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers on 18 December 2006, and will come into force on 1 June this year.
Member countries will be required to have an enforcement and penalties regime in place no later than 1 December 2008.
The UK's Department of Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), yesterday issued a consultation document on the proposals for enforcement of the REACH in the country.
The UK announced on 10 October 2006 that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) would take on the role as enforcement authority.
The consultation document deals with issues relating to which UK authority should carry out enforcement of the law, the powers it will need, the collection of information, inspections, evidence, and the issuing of enforcement notices.
It also deals with the level and type of penalties for breaches of REACH's requirements.
The deadline for consultation is 4 June 2007.
According to an European Commission impact assessment the direct costs expressed as a turnover of the chemical industry are estimated at about
0.2 per cent.
The EU chemicals industry employs around 1.7m people directly plus another 3m indirectly. It generates around £238bn per year, resulting
in a trade surplus of around £25bn. In the UK, it is worth £49bn per year with a trade surplus of £4.3bn.
REACh replaces much of the current patchwork of over 40 pieces of EU legislation relating to chemicals.