BPA Concerns Linger After FDA Declines To Act

The following editorial appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Friday, April 6:

Warning: Chemicals in the packaging, surfaces or contents of many products may cause long-term health effects, including cancers of the breast, brain and testicles; lowered sperm counts, early puberty and other reproductive system defects; diabetes; attention deficit disorder, asthma and autism. A decade ago, the government promised to test these chemicals. It still hasn't.

The foot dragging continues at the US Food and Drug Administration. The agency last week decided to "continue our review and study of emerging data on BPA."

We think that's a mistake. A better decision: Begin phasing out the controversial chemical from all food products.

While groups sympathetic to industry interests praised this non-regulating regulator, critics were harsh in their criticism.

"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 of 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."

We wouldn't go quite that far, but it's clear to us that the FDA has been slow to realize the implications of long-term exposure to bisphenol A, which is found in hardened plastics, the lining of cans, dental sealants and many other products.

Independent research for years has linked BPA, a synthetic form of estrogen, to a host of maladies, including heart disease, diabetes and breast and prostate cancer. A three-year investigation by the Journal Sentinel found that government regulators gave preference to scientists paid by the chemical industry. The newspaper obtained emails showing that FDA scientists relied on chemical industry lobbyists to examine the chemical's risks, keep track of legislation and monitor news coverage. The newspaper conducted tests that found that BPA leached from all containers when those containers were heated, even those supposedly "BPA free."

In 2008, the FDA declared BPA safe for all uses based on two industry-funded studies; lobbyists for the industry wrote entire sections of that decision, the Journal Sentinel found. Eventually, the agency shifted its position, saying it had concern about the chemical's effects on fetuses, infants and children.

Reporters analyzed a broad range of the research and found hundreds of independent studies that found the chemical harmed laboratory animals. BPA can be found in the urine of 93 percent of Americans.

As consumer concern over food safety has risen, makers of plastic water bottles and baby bottles have stopped using the chemical. Eleven states, including Wisconsin, have banned BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups. Japan has replaced BPA in all can liners. Canada declared BPA a toxic substance in 2010. Both Canada and Europe have banned it in the production of baby bottles. France banned it in food packaging. A number of brands sold in the United States, including Eden Foods, Muir Glen and Trader Joe's, say they are discontinuing the use of BPA in packaging. Campbell's Soup is the latest to announce it would do so.

The FDA believes, though, that the studies it has reviewed so far are not conclusive. It agreed to rule on whether to ban BPA in food and beverage packaging as part of a settlement of a lawsuit with the Natural Resources Defense Council. "I cannot stress enough that this is not a final safety determination on BPA," said Douglas Karas, an FDA spokesman.

It shouldn't be. We continue to believe the independent research that warns of BPA's risks provides ample reason to ban the chemical. We also agree, though, that there is a risk in moving too fast. Any ban of the chemical would have to be phased in so that food processors had ample time to find substitutes. But as the recent decision by Campbell's indicates, this process already is underway.

We're disappointed that the FDA didn't see the need to act.

Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel