BPA is here to stay. This afternoon, federal regulators rejected a request to remove the hormone-disrupting chemical bisphenol-A from all food and drink packaging, including can linings and plastic bottles.
Officials say there’s not enough scientific evidence to justify taking action, despite the widespread health concerns of doctors and public health advocates who supported a ban. ("Ludicrous," "bogus," "illogical," were some of the responses from scientists and health authorities to the decision.)
"While evidence from some studies have raised questions as to whether BPA may be associated with a variety of health effects, there remain serious questions about these studies, particularly as they relate to humans," the Food and Drug Administration said in its response to a petition filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council (which publishes OnEarth).
FDA said it will continue to study the matter, though if its record on BPA is any indication, a change in tune could be a long time coming. NRDC asked the agency to ban BPA from food containers back in 2008. By law, the agency had 180 days to act. Instead, it did nothing, even failing to open the question to public comment. After two years passed and the evidence of BPA’s danger mounted, NRDC sued.
It took a judge’s ruling to force the FDA to make a decision. March 31 was the court-imposed deadline.
NRDC senior scientist Sarah Janssen, who is also a practicing physician, said the FDA’s rejection of the latest scientific and medical research on BPA -- which mimics the effects of the female hormone estrogen and has been shown to cause reproductive problems, along with cancer, obesity, and abnormal brain development -- indicates the need for a major overhaul of the agency and the way it regulates food safety.
“BPA is a toxic chemical that has no place in our food supply,” Janssen said in a statement. “The agency has failed to protect our health and safety in the face of scientific studies that continue to raise disturbing questions about the long-term effects of BPA exposures, especially in fetuses, babies, and young children.”
Public concerns have forced corporations to act even as the FDA has failed to. The Associated Press provides a list of companies that have dumped BPA:
In 2008, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Toys "R'' Us said they began phasing out bottles, sippy cups and other children's items containing BPA. By the end of 2009, the six leading makers of baby bottles in the U.S. went BPA-free. Earlier this month Campbell's Soup said it would begin removing BPA from its most popular soups, though it did not set a time frame. ... Heinz reportedly uses BPA-free coatings for its Nurture baby formula cans, and ConAgra and General Mills say they have switched to alternative sealants for some canned tomatoes.
Still, the vast majority of canned goods in the U.S. continue to be sealed with BPA, a practice that has been in place since the 1960s and that the food and plastic industries continue to defend.
"FDA's decision today, which has taken into consideration the best available science, again confirms that BPA is safe for use in food-contact materials, as it has been approved and used safely for four decades," said Steven G. Hentges of the American Chemistry Council, a lobbying group for the plastics industry.
See OnEarth’s previous coverage of BPA, including tips on how to avoid it in your food and water, from award-winning food writer Barry Estabrook on his Politics of the Plate blog.
Image: Krystian Olszanski/Flickr