FDA rejects petition to ban BPA use

Last Friday, the Food and Drug Administration announced that it would not ban bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical used for decades to line metal cans and harden plastic bottles. In 2008, he Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) petitioned the FDA to prohibit BPA use in packaging.

"The FDA denied the NRDC petition because it did not have the scientific data needed for the FDA to change current regulations, which allows the use of BPA in food packaging," FDA spokesman Douglas Karas said. "I cannot stress enough that this is not a final safety determination on BPA."

Conflicting arguments abound about the safety of BPA use in food packaging and bottle production. Trade groups for chemical and can manufacturers state that BPA is safe and has significantly reduced the number of deaths from food poisoning, while the NRDC and other environmental and consumer groups say that BPA contaminates food and water and may interfere with hormones or cause health problems.

“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,” says NRDC senior scientist Sarah Janssen. “The FDA is out-of-step with scientific and medical research. This [decision] illustrates the need for a major overhaul of how the government protects us against dangerous chemicals.”

Canada banned BPA use in 2010 when a government report found the chemical was present in the bodies of 91 percent of Canadians.

"We are literally marinating in it on a minute-by-minute basis," said Rick Smith, executive director of Environmental Defence Canada. The organization originated in 1984 and began the country’s backlash against BPA use in baby bottles. In 2008, Canadian Health Minister Tony Clement declared BPA to be toxic and banned it from baby bottles, making Canada the first country to do so. Since then, the European Union has followed suit. France plans to ban the use of BPA in food packages, materials, and containers geared toward infants and young children by January 2013 and in food containers for everyone by January 2014.

A number of U.S. corporations stopped using BPA in bottles, sippy cups, and other products after studies revealed the chemical may affect a child’s brain, behavior, and prostate gland..

Campbell Soup Company and others are researching BPA alternatives. Likewise, the National Institutes of Health is funding its own studies. But, says director Linda S. Birnbaum, regulators will not ban BPA until they’re certain the alternative is not worse.

"We always support more research,” says Sarah Janssen. “But we also wonder, when is enough enough?.... What the FDA is saying is: We're going to keep studying it, and in the meantime you're going to still eat it and then maybe later we'll tell you it's not safe."

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