On Friday, March 30, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rejected a call to ban the plastic additive bisphenol A from food packaging. The agency took this action after federal researchers couldn’t find sufficient evidence that people are being harmed by BPA.
The call had come from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). The organization wanted a ban on BPA in anything that came in contact with food. About 90% of Americans have traces of BPA inside of them, mainly because the chemical leaches out of food and beverage containers, like soup cans and water bottles. By looking at data collected from rodents and other animals exposed to BPA, some scientists think that exposure to BPA harms the reproductive and nervous systems, especially in children, and could lead to cancer and other diseases.
However, as healthcare reporter Matthew Perrone of the Associated Press wrote on March 30:
But FDA reiterated in its response that that those findings cannot be applied to humans. The agency said the studies cited by NRDC were often too small to be conclusive. In other cases they involved researchers injecting BPA into animals, whereas humans ingest the chemical through their diet over longer periods of time. The agency also said that humans metabolize and eliminate BPA much more quickly than rats and other lab animals.
On the NPR food blog, The Salt, science reporter Jon Hamilton explained that the FDA put together a high-profile team to review the safety of BPA. The team focused on key questions that included how much of the ingested BPA in a person enters the bloodstream in a dangerous form and whether infants and young children were particularly vulnerable to the chemical.
For the first question, the data seemed to lean towards “no.” To the second question, the answer is “possibly.”
But still, the NRDC was unhappy with the conclusion the FDA reached. Perrone reported:
‘The FDA is out-of-step with scientific and medical research,’ said Dr. Sarah Janssen, NRDC’s senior scientist for public health. ‘This illustrates the need for a major overhaul of how the government protects us against dangerous chemicals.’
The FDA has said that it will continue studying BPA and will release another update later this year. Perrone notes:
The government is spending $30 million to conduct additional studies on the chemical’s impact on humans. Several federal studies published in the last two years suggest that even human embryos retain far less BPA than other animals.
Both Hamilton and Perrone say that even before the FDA reached its decision, manufacturers were beginning to shift away from BPA, such as, for example, in the highly publicized move last month by the makers of Campbell soups, and use alternative chemicals. But the problem is that these other chemicals haven’t been studied as much as BPA.
You can listen to the NPR Morning Edition‘s report on Friday, March 30, which was broadcast before the FDA issued its decision.
Source: FDA rejects call to ban BPA from food packaging, Associated Press, 03/30/12
Source: Feds Reject Petition To Ban BPA In Food, NPR’s The Salt, 03/30/12
Image by janetgalore, used under its Creative Commons license.
Rajendrani "Raj" Mukhopadhyay is a science writer and editor who contributes news stories and feature articles on scientific advances to a variety of magazines. Raj holds Ph.D. in biophysics from Johns Hopkins University.