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FDA rejects petition to ban BPA in food packaging

Meg Kissinger, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel –

The Food and Drug Administration announced Friday that it was denying a petition to ban BPA from all food and drink containers, saying the science does not show an immediate cause for such action.

However, the federal agency cautioned that this ruling does not declare bisphenol A, or BPA, as safe. The agency says it is continuing its assessment of the chemical, which is used in the lining of most canned food and drink.

Friday’s action comes as a response to a petition filed in 2008 by the Natural Resources Defense Council claiming that the chemical poses a serious threat to human health.

“The FDA denied the NRDC petition today because it did not provide the scientific evidence needed to change current regulations, but this announcement is not a final safety determination and the FDA continues to support research examining the safety of BPA,” said FDA spokesman Douglas Karas.

The FDA has been studying and continues to study the effects of BPA and will make any necessary changes to BPA’s status based on the science, Karas said.

Sarah Janssen, senior scientist for the Natural Resources Defense Council, criticized the federal agency for failing to ban BPA.

“BPA is a toxic chemical that has no place in our food supply,” she said.

“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.”

Chemical industry lobbyists praised the government decision.

“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 Steve Hentges, senior scientist with the American Chemistry Council.

While the chemistry council is characterizing Friday’s move as the government “closing the books” on the petition, it does not mean that the FDA has decided once and for all that BPA is safe.

BPA, a synthetic estrogen developed more than 70 years ago, came into wide use in the 1960s and 1970s to make polycarbonate plastic for such things as baby bottles. It is also used as an epoxy resin to line metal cans. BPA can be found in cell phones, dental sealants, eyeglasses, as a coating for cash register receipts and hundreds of other household items.

It has been detected in the urine of more than 93% of Americans tested.

‘Serious questions’ about research

Karas said FDA regulators had “serious questions” about studies that found harm to human health.

The FDA is working toward completion of another updated safety review on BPA this year to include all relevant studies and publications.

The agency’s move Friday was criticized by Environmental Working Group, which has lobbied to remove BPA from food and food containers, particularly baby bottles and infant formula.

“The next decision the FDA should make is to remove ‘responsible for protecting the public health’ from its mission statement,” said Jane Houlihan, senior vice president for research at the Environmental Working Group. “It’s false advertising. Allowing a chemical as toxic as BPA, and linked to so many serious health problems, to remain in food means the agency has veered dangerously off course.”

Scientists first became concerned about BPA in the 1990s when rats stored in polycarbonate cages began miscarrying and showing other signs of reproductive failure. Since then, thousands of studies have linked BPA to health problems.

BPA is regarded by scientists as particularly concerning for fetuses and infants. The effects have been found at low doses, hundreds of times smaller than governmental regulatory agencies have determined to be safe.

Industry revenue from BPA is estimated at more than $6 billion a year.

Chemical makers maintain the chemical is safe for all uses.

three-year investigation by the Journal Sentinel found that government regulators gave preferential treatment to scientists paid by the chemical industry. Emails obtained by the newspaper showed that FDA scientists relied on chemical industry lobbyists to examine BPA’s risks, track legislation to ban it and even monitor news coverage.

Tests conducted by the newspaper found that BPA leached from all of them when heated, including those marked “BPA-Free.”

Ten states, including Wisconsin, have various bans on the use of BPA in baby bottles, sippy cups and other tableware intended for use by young children.

In 2008, Canadian health officials declared that BPA was toxic and banned its use in baby bottles.

In recent years, consumer demand led to baby bottle manufacturers discontinuing use of the chemical. Earlier this year, Campbell’s Soup joined companies like General Foods and Trader Joe’s in promising to switch to an alternative to BPA.

Several regulatory agencies – including the National Toxicology Program and the FDA’s own advisory panel – have concluded that there is cause for concern about BPA’s health effects. Human studies have linked BPA to behavioral problems, diabetes and heart disease. Other studies have linked BPA, a synthetic estrogen, to cancers of the breast and prostate.

The FDA agreed to rule by the end of March in exchange for the lawsuit from the Natural Resources Defense Council being dropped.

The defense council petition argued that the FDA should ban the chemical based on scientific concerns.

The American Chemistry Council filed a petition last September, asking the FDA to ban BPA in baby bottles, a move that confused and surprised many. The chemical industry lobbyists steadfastly maintain that BPA is safe for all use but say the chemical is no longer used by most baby bottle makers anyway, so it might as well be taken off the marketplace.

Environmental groups, such as Environmental Working Group and the Natural Resources Defense Council, called the move a “publicity stunt.”

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