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BPA will stay in food packaging and cans for now, says FDA


REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

BPA is found in plastics used to line many food product containers, including aluminum cans.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced on Friday that it was rejecting a request by an environmental group to ban the use of bisphenol A (BPA) in food and beverage packaging.

The agency did say, however, that it would continue to study the safety of the controversial chemical.

The environmental group, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), petitioned the FDA to ban BPA in food products in 2008. When the FDA failed to act, NRDC sued the agency. The court then instructed the FDA that it had until last Saturday to study the issue and respond to the petition.

BPA has been used since the 1960s in plastic food packaging and in the epoxy linings of metal-based food and beverage cans. Scientists have expressed increasing concern, however, over the health effects of BPA on the human body, even at low but chronic doses. The chemical is a synthetic estrogen and considered a hormone disrupter. Animal and some human studies have associated BPA exposure with a string of health and developmental problems, including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, early puberty, enlarged prostate glands, and learning disabilities. Fetuses, babies and children may be most at risk, say scientists.

In a consumer information report released Friday to explain its denial of the NRDC request, the FDA said its research showed that BPA levels were too low and too quickly metabolized and excreted by the human body to be of any health concern.

A disappointment

This interpretation of the science on BPA was widely criticized by environmentalists, including the Minnesota-based Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP).

Dr. David Wallingaiatp.orgDr. David Wallinga

“I was disappointed, but not terribly surprised given the foot-dragging by the FDA on this issue over the years,” said Dr. David Wallinga, a senior advisor for science, food and health at the IATP, in a phone interview.

Wallinga said that 20 years of research has shown that in utero and early-life exposures to BPA, even at low doses, can disrupt the body’s hormone and neurological systems.

“It’s sort of disingenuous for the FDA to say these levels are extremely low” and are therefore nothing to worry about, said Wallinga. Hormone-disrupting chemicals like BPA are designed to have an effect at low doses, he explained, because the hormones they are acting upon also function in the body at extremely low levels.

“For some chemicals, we have pretty good evidence that the effects at low levels can be greater than at high levels of exposure,” he said.

Some companies phasing out BPA

Several food companies, like Campbell Soup, have already responded to consumer concerns and are phasing out BPA. But the FDA shouldn’t put consumers in the position of having to research every product they buy to determine whether BPA is in its packaging, said Wallinga.

“That’s not why we pay taxes and have a public health agency like the FDA,” he said. “We ought to be demanding that our public health agencies work in our interest and work proactively.”

Wallinga said his agency plans to continue its three-pronged effort to rid food packaging of BPA: urging the FDA to ban the substance, pushing companies to voluntarily stop using it, and educating consumers about how they can avoid it in the products they buy.

Friday’s ruling by the FDA “is not a big setback,” he said. “It’s another bump in the long road. It’s not going to make us stop driving.”

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Gosh darn that hippie-commie

Gosh darn that hippie-commie Obama administration. Oh, wait.