A controversial amendment proposed by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) to ban the use of bisphenol-A, otherwise known as BPA, in food and drink containers continues to threaten the broad, bipartisan support for the pending FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (S. 510).

Sen.Feinstein.jpgYesterday, Feinstein stood with environmental and public health advocates on Capitol Hill to release a new report–which found “alarming levels” of the endocrine-disrupting chemical in common canned foods–and reaffirmed her intention to introduce a BPA amendment when S. 510 is brought to the floor of the Senate.

Both the Grocery Manufacturers of America (GMA), and the Chamber of Commerce, two major business groups who currently support the food safety bill, recently threatened to oppose the legislation if it contained language banning the controversial chemical.

Were the BPA amendment adopted into the pending legislation it would present major challenges by turning very important allies into foes, and adding new opposition from the chemical and packaging industries.

But, as the National Workgroup for Safe Markets, a coalition of U.S. public and environmental health-focused NGOs behind the report, said in a letter to Senate leadership yesterday, they believe the food safety bill is an appropriate vehicle for BPA restrictions.

“[T]he Food Safety Modernization Act only addresses part of the picture,” reads the letter. “E. coli, Salmonella, and other foodborne contaminants are important concerns, but so are endocrine disrupting chemicals like BPA which are found in food and beverage packaging. BPA leaches from food packaging into food and then into people. Getting BPA out of food is an urgent food safety and public health issue that demands immediate congressional action.”

Food industry giants disagree. They argue public health agencies should rule on the safety of the chemical, not Congress. GMA pushed back against the report yesterday saying it offered “no new science.”

“All of the credible information in the report is well known to regulatory agencies and has been considered in their review and affirmation of the safety of BPA,” said Robert Brackett, GMA’s senior vice president and chief science and regulatory affairs officer in a statement. “BPA has been used for over 30 years to improve the safety and quality of food and beverages, including by providing protective coating for cans. Scientists and regulatory agencies who have reviewed BPA have concluded that BPA is safe for use in these products.”

Brackett was director of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN) from 2004 to 2007.

The FDA is re-reviewing BPA and is expected to complete its assessment within the next 18 to 24 months, after announcing in January that it had “some concern” about the chemical.  The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has also launched a $30 million study on the safety of low level exposure to BPA.

When asked if she was worried about jeopardizing S. 510, which has been stalled for months behind health care reform and other pressing legislative priorities, Sen. Feinstein said “No, not at all.”

Feinstein was also not overly optimistic about the bipartisan outlook for her BPA amendment. “I think the outlook is that its going to be a struggle. There’s no question about it. There are powerful interests that don’t want us to pass this bill.”

Pictured: Senator Feinstein (right) takes questions from reporters at a press conference unveiling the new BPA report, No Silver Lining.