Julie Whittington, RD

Healthy tips from a Registered Dietitian

Settlement requires FDA to decide if BPA should be banned from food industry

In 2008, the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) filed a petition to the FDA to ban the use of the chemical bisphenol A (BPA) in the food industry.  BPA is considered an indirect food additive and often found in food contact surfaces.  It has been used for decades in polycarbonate plastics (including those to store foods), linings of metal food and beverage containers and also in non-food products like cash register receipts.

For years, BPA has been passed off as safe to use in our industry, “in small amounts”.  However, a December 2011 settlement requires the FDA to decide, by March 31, if BPA should be banned.  In the meantime, the FDA has been undergoing a multi-million dollar investigation of the chemical and consumers are anxiously awaiting the decision due at the end of this month.

The concern stems from the fact that BPA is a potential hormone disruptor that can leach from plastics, linings and coatings into foods, drinks and possibly directly into our skin (such as when you hold a store receipt).  Concerns have been mounting the past few years and research results seem to indicate a risk of health problems associated with BPA exposure – especially to children.

In 1999, Consumer Reports issued concerns about BPA in baby bottles, raising public interest.  In 2011, California made headlines when it passed a law banning the sale of baby bottles and sippy cups containing BPA (to be in effect by July 2013).  Other states also have similar laws.  Baby bottle and sippy cup manufacturers started phasing out the use of BPA and it is hard to find a baby bottle in America now that is not “BPA free”.

In 2010, the FDA issued a report stating “the National Toxicology Program at the National Institutes of Health and FDA have some concern about the potential effects of BPA on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants, and young children.”  To read more, visit http://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/PublicHealthFocus/ucm197739.htm.

Other concerns raised by the National Toxicology Program included a “minimal” chance that BPA exposure has effects on mammary glands and on early puberty in children.

In 2011, the journal Pediatrics published concerning research on the impact of gestational BPA exposure on the behavioral development in young children.

Overall, there seems to be considerable health concern regarding BPA exposure, especially on developing fetuses and in children.  Whether the concerns are warranted, only time and further research will tell.  Since many other regulatory agencies in the world have maintained that BPA is safe to use in food-contact materials, many consumers fear the FDA will also conclude the same.

Many companies, like most recently, Campbell’s Soup, are taking the initiative to remove BPA from their soup can linings, even before an FDA decision is made.  That is a big step – and may further impact the industry on its own.

If anything, BPA certainly is not “good” for us.  And, with the risk it could be significantly unsafe, many consumers will be overjoyed if BPA is banned across the board.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has created a form letter you can submit electronically to the FDA at http://action.ewg.org/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=1965 to show your support to ban BPA by March 31, if you desire.

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