In a resounding defeat, health advocates and environmentalists in the United States lost the fight to take the chemical bisphenol-A out of food packaging. On March 30, the Food and Drug Administration rejected their petition to ban the industrial chemical from all food and drink packaging, including plastic bottles and canned food.
But the FDA stressed its latest ruling on the petition brought by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) wasn’t the final word. “The FDA denied the NRDC petition because it didn’t have the scientific data needed for the FDA to change current regulations, which allows the use of BPA in food packaging,” FDA spokesman Doug Karas said a media statement.
“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 and the public health impact of BPA,” Karas told the Agence France Presse. But he also said, “I cannot stress enough that this is not a final safety determination on BPA.”
The NRDC petitioned the FDA in 2008 to ban BPA as a food additive — including all uses in food or beverage packaging. It was a routine petition, similar to those filed on various safety issues by advocacy groups, companies and individuals.
But when the FDA failed to respond within the timeframe required by law, the environmental group sued the agency. It pointed out that the FDA is legally mandated to respond to written petitions within 180 days. And in December, a federal judge ruled that the agency had to respond by the end of March.
Commonly used in food packaging, BPA has been found canned foods since the 1950s — and the practice is approved by the FDA. Because the chemical industry says BPA is the safest, most effective sealant, it’s so ubiquitous today that scientists have found it in the urine of 93 percent of Americans.
But it’s dangerous because it mimics the female hormone estrogen and is associated with health risks, including endocrine-related cancers.
‘No compelling scientific evidence’ — FDA
In seeking a ban on BPA in food packaging, food containers, and other materials likely to come into contact with food, the NRDC cited studies on animals that showed the hormone-disrupting chemical was linked to brain changes, chromosomal abnormalities and some cancers.
The NRDC has also cited some “emerging human research” that suggests a possible link between BPA exposure and cardiovascular disease, diabetes, miscarriage, erectile dysfunction and altered behavior in toddlers.
But the FDA told the Associated Press that the petitioners didn’t present compelling scientific evidence to justify new restrictions on the much-debated chemical. Still, it assured the public that federal scientists continue to study the issue. In its response, the FDA reiterated that:
• Findings in animal studies can’t be applied to humans.
• Some of the studies cited by NRDC were often too small to be conclusive.
• In some studies, researchers injecting BPA into animals, but in real life, people ingest the chemical through their diet over longer periods of time.
• Humans metabolize and eliminate BPA much more quickly than rats and other lab animals.
Responding in particular to studies that showed pregnant women exposed to BPA gave birth to infants with high BPA levels that affected their nervous systems and behavior, Karas told AFP that research done by the agency itself has shown that actual BPA exposure to human infants is 84-92 percent less than previously estimated.
“Researchers fed pregnant rodents 100 to 1,000 times more BPA than people are exposed to through food, and could not detect the active form of BPA in the fetus eight hours after the mother’s exposure,” Karas claimed.