After scientific evidence failed to convince the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to outlaw BPA in food packaging, a lawmaker has spotted another way to get the agency to regulate the substance.
Ever since 2008, when new research suggested that bisphenol A – used in packaging to make plastic harder or protect metal can linings – could be harmful to humans, consumer advocates have been pushing for an all-out federal ban on containers carrying the chemical. So far this push has been successful only in the court of public opinion, where the public’s fear of BPA has caused many manufacturers to phase it out of products.
FDA has consistently said that evidence supporting the dangers of BPA is currently too weak to justify banning the substance.
Now a lawmaker has found another way to get this chemical off the market – or at least out of infant formula containers.
In March, Congressman Ed Markey (D-MA) petitioned FDA to remove regulatory approval for BPA in three items: baby and toddler food packaging, small reusable household containers and canned food packaging. Markey argued that manufacturers “have abandoned the use of BPA” in these products. Legally, FDA can remove approval for the use of an additive if that use has since been abandoned.
Markey’s petition essentially asked FDA to withdraw approval for BPA in these three products on the grounds that this use is no longer practiced and therefore no longer needs approval.
On Wednesday, FDA accepted Markey’s petition to disallow the use of BPA in infant formula containers, but denied the petition as it related to small reusable containers and canned food packaging.
The agency informed Markey that it will file the infant formula petition in the Federal Register, collect and review public comments on the petition, and then propose a final rule that would change regulations to no longer allow BPA in infant formula containers.
“New parents should be worried about bibs and bottles not BPA when feeding their babies,” said Rep. Markey in a statement Wedesday. “With FDA finally taking steps to remove BPA from infant formula, feeding time for parent and babies just got much safer. Now that the FDA is moving forward with my petition, industry practice can follow consumer demand and we will be able to close the door on the use of BPA in infant formula forever.”
While Markey praised FDA’s move, he also called on both the agency and industry to take further steps to phase bisphenol A out of food packaging.
“Accepting this petition is a good start, but there are many industries that are ignoring consumer concerns and continuing to poison our food supply with this dangerous chemical. There are viable alternatives for BPA in food packaging, and I urge companies to be better corporate citizens and abandon the use of this toxic chemical. I also encourage FDA to complete and make public their long-overdue assessment of BPA’s health impacts, and make clear their next steps for ensuring our entire food supply is free from this damaging chemical.”
Whether or not BPA in food containers is indeed a threat to human health remains a subject of great debate.
Studies pointing to its toxicity have suggested that repeated exposure to low levels of the chemical may have a negative effect on brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants and young children; however many scientists have said that Americans are simply not exposed to levels of BPA that could cause them harm.
Studies on BPA safety amount to “probably the largest body of evidence on safety of food contact material available,” said Dr. Mitchell Cheeseman, a 20-year veteran of FDA’s Office of Food Additive Safety at a news conference on BPA hosted by the International Food Information Council in April.
Bisphenol A has been banned in Canada, the European Union, China, Malaysia, South Africa and Argentina in products intended for small children. Australia and Japan have initiated voluntary bans, while 11 U.S. states have placed their own bans on BPA in children’s product.
France has proposed a ban that has been blocked by 6 other European countries.
To read more about the debate over BPA safety, please see previous Food Safety News coverage: