Fallout from Industry Memo Seeking Pregnant Woman to Tout Bisphenol A

woman warriorYesterday I posted about the leaked meeting minutes from the canned food industry in which a young pregnant woman was identified as the “holy grail” to tout the benefits of bisphenol A (BPA). And then if that didn’t work, the industry was prepared to use fear to scare you to prevent the passage of legislation limiting the use of BPA. And since that post, several interesting things have happened.

The House of Representatives Committee of Energy and Commerce and its Subcommitee on Oversight and Investigations, which has been investigating the safety of BPA and its use in food contact products, particularly infant formula, issued a letter to the Chairman of the North American Metal Packaging Alliance, Inc. (NAMPA) (and whose lobbyist organized the meeting), demanding:

(1)  All documents and communications, including talking points, minutes, summaries, memoranda, media statements, e-mails, and drafts of any such documents, relating to meetings of the BPA Joint Trade Association in April and May 2009, including documents and communications created by the date of this request;

(2) A list of all attendees at these meetings, including their affiliations and contact information; and

(3)  A list of all members of the BPA Joint Trade Association, including their contact information.

The Committee also asked the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to re-consider its assessment that BPA is safe, a position that has been roundly criticized, even by the FDA’s own Science Advisory Board. (The SAB said that the FDA had created a false sense of security about BPA.) And, in the biggest surprise, only a few hours later, in a surprise after the FDA’s stonewalling and reluctance during the Bush Administration, stated that it would have a review within weeks, not months.

We got industry’s attention when we demanded BPA free baby bottles and sippy cups. In fact, we got leading retailers and the leading manufacturers to basically eliminate BPA containing baby bottles and sippy cups.

And now that we are turning our attention to other BPA exposures such as canned foods and beverages, we have industry scared. So scared that they are plotting . . .to have a pregnant woman sway us, and if that doesn’t work, to scare us. And who are the fear mongerers?

So, let’s use our pocketbooks to buy fresh, frozen, dried, jarred (glass) or (my least favorite option) in a safer plastic. As Leslie says at Eco Child’s Play, we must spend wisely. We have a voice – one industry understands. Our pocketbooks.

Lynn at OrganicMania offers to talk to industry in a conference call about what we moms want – and it isn’t to have the wool pulled over our eyes.

And, let’s keep our VOICES RAISED.  Like Janelle over at Health Child Healthy World, who tells industry that WE DON’T WANT YOUR BPA.

Or Tiffany Washko at Nature Moms. She calls us to action. She tells us moms must be prepared to battle.

And, girl, I’m ready.

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Ready to piss off a mom blogger? Seek a pregnant woman to consume BPA lined canned goods

Looking for a job? If you are pregnant, I’ve got one for you:

WANTED: Young, pregnant mother to act as spokesperson. Must be willing to drink liquids and eat foods from metal canned foods and beverages. Must also execute full release and waiver for any and all birth defects or other harm suffered by fetus.

Think I’m kidding? Unfortunately, I’m not.

woman opening  canned goodsAn unbelievable memo summarizing a May 28, 2009 meeting of canned food and beverage industry representatives to combat the legislative efforts to restrict the use of bisphenol A (BPA) seeks the “holy grail” spokesperson – a “pregnant young mother who would be willing to speak around the country about the benefits of BPA.” The meeting minutes were obtained by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and the points verified by John Rost, chairman of the North American Metal Packaging Alliance (NAMPA), who only quibbled with the minutes because the meeting was 5 hours long. Kathleen Roberts, a lobbyist representing NAMPA, organized the meeting and also confirmed the accuracy of the notes, reported the Washington Post.

And, if the pregnant woman doesn’t convince you to drink the punch, well then, they will scare you. They will argue that without BPA, you won’t have access to baby food – ignoring that other packaging methods exist. And if scaring you doesn’t work, then they will focus on “the impact of BPA bans on minorities (Hispanic and African American) and poor” since, apparently they believe these groups eat more canned food but don’t care about the health of their children?

If you didn’t know, BPA is found in the linings of virtually all canned foods and beverages in the US, except for Eden’s Organics beans. So, you get dosed with BPA every time you consume metal canned foods and beverages, such that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found BPA in 93% of us.

BPA is linked to a host of adverse health effects. It is an endocrine disruptor – meaning it interferes with the body’s hormone system. A recent study found prenatal exposure to BPA feminizes male monkeys. There are numerous studies documenting adverse health effects in animals. Even if you don’t want to believe the more than 100 hundred studies that have found that BPA causes hormone disruption and other health effects, the National Toxicology Program found “some concern” (a 3 on its 5 point scale) for effects on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants and children at current levels of exposure. And a large study of humans found BPA exposure linked to heart disease and diabetes.

So, um, yeah, let’s have a pregnant woman tout the benefits of BPA.

I’m so pissed. How stupid do these industry representatives think we are? They think that if they pick the right “messaging” (which the industry will discover through at $500,000 survey of consumer perceptions and messaging), we will ignore the growing body of evidence of adverse health effects associated with BPA exposure? That we can’t separate the fact from the fiction?

Hmm, you know, I’m perfectly capable of analyzing a press release. Take NAMPA’s press release following the Milwaukee’s JS story, in which NAMPA whines that the industry’s viewpoint is ignored by media and that governmental agencies consistently determine that BPA is safe. Well, the FDA’s assessment of BPA’s safety has been roundly criticized, even by the FDA’s own Scientific Advisory Board, which found that the FDA has created a “false sense of security” about BPA’s safety. That’s right, a FALSE sense of security. And evidence just surfaced that the FDA personnel were just too cozy with industry lobbyists and representatives. Oh, and by the way, although the National Toxicology Program isn’t a regulatory body, it is highly respecte. And it did NOT conclude that BPA was safe. Health Canada didn’t conclude BPA was safe.

So, instead of spending money to explore alternatives, the industry wants to spend money convincing us women (because, well, we do make most of the household buying decisions) that BPA is safe using a pregnant woman. Yep, that’s right, you will be persuaded by a young mother telling you BPA is safe.

Or, the industry will scare us that without BPA, we will die from contaminated canned foods. Well, Japan has made significant strides in alternatives to BPA containing epoxy resins for canned foods. And, Eden’s Foods uses oleoresin for its beans (and yes, I know that oleoresin won’t work for tomato-based or other acidic produts).  Or, they will scare people that we won’t have canned foods. Well, instead of canned, you can choose fresh, frozen, dried, or jarred in glass, or, my least favorite option, a BPA free plastic.

The memo indicates that the industry representatives and companies involved – Coca-Cola, Alcoa, Crown, North American Metal Packaging Alliance, Inc., Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), American Chemistry Council, Del Monte – want a “grassroots” effort. So let’s give them a grassroots effort of mommy bloggers speaking out about BPA, the potential health effects, and the options for BPA-free products.

Let’s not play nice with our children’s health.

Let’s raise our voices, moms! We got BPA out of most baby bottles. Let’s tell the industry enough is enough. Don’t try to fool us – do something proactive instead. Find a solution.

Are you ready to join us? Speaking out, my friend Sommer from Green and Clean Mom says “Talk to the Hand”. She’s got a plethora of Tweets about what we think about the industry’s back door meeting. But I love how she points out the irony that companies love mommy bloggers when they want us to sell something and be brand evangelists, but that we are hysterical and just don’t understand the science when we question product safety or environmental standards.

SafeMama says manufacturers are getting scared because we are smart. We educated ourselves about the hazards of BPA, and are seeking alternatives and demanding legislation.

Jenn Savedge (author of The Green Parent: A Kid-Friendly Guide to Environmentally-Friendly Living
and The Green Teen: The Eco-Friendly Teen’s Guide to Saving the Planet) at Mother Nature Network urges us to prove industry wrong.

And my friend Alicia from The Soft Landing (with a fabulous online store of BPA free items, among other things), asks who are the fear mongerers now? After accusing us of being fear mongerers, the industry representatives have decided to turn the tables to encourage their primary customers, women between 21 and 35, to stick with canned foods. And she cries foul.

Lisa from Retro Housewife . . . Goes Green reminds us that the FDA, tasked with protecting the safety of food contact items, is in bed with the BPA industry and wants us to use the power we have to stop this travesty.

Katy, over at Non Toxic Kids, is angry. Really angry. She wants green mamas moved to action.

This post received a Great Green Post Award from Green Moms Review!

The Great Green Post Award

Emails Show FDA Was Very Cozy With Lobbyists on Bisphenol A

bottle feeding babyIt is so disappointing to learn that yes, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) really has not done its job when it comes to bisphenol A (BPA). BPA is a hormone disruptor and has been linked to other health effects. We find it in polycarbonate plastic and the linings of canned foods and beverages. (Need more of a refresher on BPA – I’ve got one.)  

If you haven’t followed BPA over the last year or so, the FDA maintains that BPA is safe, even though an independent board, the FDA’s Science Advisory Board, soundly and completely renounced the FDA’s determination. Separately, the National Toxicology Program (NTP) found “some concern” (a 3 on its 5 point scale) for certain health endpoints for fetuses, infants and children at current BPA exposure levels. And, since those reports, additional research has been published reporting concerns with BPA, including male monkeys exposed to BPA prenatally acting more like females and that BPA slows the transition of tadpoles into frogs. 

Also, this week, researchers found that drinking cold liquids out of polycarbonate plastic bottles (the type of plastic that leaches BPA) increases BPA in the body.  Specifically, Harvard University researchers and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found a 70% increase in the amount of BPA detected in the urine of college students who drank from plastic bottles made with BPA. The students drank from stainless for one week (to clean them out) and then out of polycarbonate plastic for a week. And in only one week, BPA concentrations rose dramaticallly.  

And yet, the FDA maintains BPA is safe. But FDA has apparently sold out completely. I previously questioned whether science was for sale in the context of FDA and BPA when the chair received a $5 million donation for his research foundation. But the level of coziness between the FDA and lobbyists reported by the Journal Sentinel indicates that the FDA has no interest whatsoever in protecting our most vulnerable population, our babies. 

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reviewed documents provided pursuant to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. It reports that those documents clearly demonstrate that the FDA relied on industry lobbyists to review scientific research. As an example, the Journal Sentinel:

 In one instance, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s deputy director sought information from the BPA industry’s chief lobbyist to discredit a Japanese study that found it caused miscarriages in workers who were exposed to it. This was before government scientists even had a chance to review the study.

 ‘I’d like to get information together that our chemists could look at to determine if there are problems with that data in advance of possibly reviewing the study,”‘Mitchell Cheeseman, deputy director of the FDA’s center for food safety and applied nutrition, said in an e-mail seeking advice from Steven Hentges, executive director of the trade association’s BPA group.”

 The reported communications are disturbing, especially since the review of scientific reports by governmental agencies should be free of this sort of coziness and influence. I recognize that politics, unfortunately, plays a role in our government agencies, but this amount of influence is disgusting. And it was just the industry lobbyists. The Journal Sentinel reports that non-industry lobbyists were not given the same sort of access, confirming this by reviewing the communications and talking to various individuals and groups.


The communications go on. The Journal Sentinel reports as follows: 

In other e-mails, trade lobbyists notified FDA officials about upcoming news reports on BPA and advised them how to respond. 

“Laura and Mitch,” Hentges wrote in an e-mail to FDA administrators. “I send this note to give you a head’s up on something we understand is coming next week.” 

The item was a report from the Environmental Working Group, an activist organization working to ban BPA. 

“At this time we have no information on what information they will report or how it will be publicized,” Hentges wrote. “However, we can anticipate that it will be widely publicized as a serious food safety issue. If correct, it might be appropriate for FDA to consider issuing a statement to reassure consumers about the safety of the food supply.” 

You may recall that yes, indeed, the FDA issued a statement concerning the safety of the food supply and BPA. 

So, what do you think? Do you think this is too cozy?

What is bisphenol A (BPA)?

bpa free“What is BPA?” is a top topic over at Mamapedia.  And, today I got asked again what bisphenol A (BPA) by a colleague at work. And since I thought that I talked incessantly about BPA, lead and other chemicals at work and that everybody already knew what it was, it surprised me. So, I thought I would answer the question “what is BPA” in the context of parenting.

And I promise only a little tiny bit of chemisty.

Basically, BPA is an organic compound.  It is a basic monomer, or building block, of polycarbonate plastic.  Polycarbonate plastic is a clear, shatterproof hard plastic used for lots of things, including food storage containers and often baby bottles. For example, most 5 gallon water jugs are polycarbonate plastic. 

BPA is also used in epoxy resins. Epoxy resins are used, among other uses, to line virtually all canned foods and beverages in the United States. 

We are exposed to BPA when it leaches into our food from the linings. Migration of BPA from the linings of canned foods has be well documented. BPA also leaches from polycarbonate plastic, particularly when the storage container is heated or hot food stuff is added to the storage container, when harsh detergents are used, or when acidic substances are stored in polycarbonate. 

BPA is also an endocrine disruptor, which means basically that it interferes with the body’s hormone signaling system.  It mimics the hormone estrogen. In fact, for some history, BPA was investigated along with DES in the 1930’s as a synthetic hormone treatment for various conditions, but DES was chosen over BPA. 

Virtually all Americans have BPA in their systems.  The Centers of Disease Control’s biomonitoring has shown that 93% of us have BPA in us. Whether the low levels are sufficient to cause harm has been the subject of must debate, which I’ve blogged about repeatedly.  The National Toxicology Program (NTP) has found “some concern” (a 3 on the NTP’s 5 point scale) for effects on the brain, behavior and prostrate gland in fetuses, infants and children at current levels of exposure.  The FDA’s conclusion that BPA is safe has been roundly criticized, including by the board of scientific experts convened by the FDA to assess FDA’s report. The experts accused FDA of creating a false sense of security by overlooking a wide range of important studies. 

In addition to being an endocrine disruptor, a large study of humans found the exposure to high levels of BPA increases the risk of diabetes 2 and heart disease. 

So that’s basically what BPA is, and where you are most likely to find it.  And a little bit about the debate over BPA’s safety. If you want more on the science of doubt and the BPA, I urge you to read Fast Company’s great article.  

If you want to minimize your exposure to BPA, you need to skip polycarbonate plastic.  Not sure how to identify polycarbonate plastic? Polycarbonate plastic falls in the #7 recycling code (really a resin identification code).  Number 7 means “other plastic” (meaning other than plastics 1 through 6). So polycarbonate plastic will be identified by #7, but not all #7 is polycarbonate. In place of polycarbonate plastic, try glass or stainless steel instead for food storage and drink containers, like Kleen Kanteen. For 5 gallon water jugs, you can try glass if you have it in your community.  I’ve got some simple steps to reduce your baby’s exposure to BPA.  But, for baby and kid products, I urge you to use Z Recommends guide for evaluating safer products.  

For canned foods and beverages, some Eden’s Food canned goods (not the tomato products) are BPA free. Instead of canned, use fresh, frozen, dried, or jarred. It sounds like it is hard, but trust me, you can get almost anything in a container other than polycarbonate plastic.

Beth at FakePlasticFish Asks Oprah to go Plastic Free

plastic bottlesHow much disposable plastic do you throw away every day?

How many water bottles or drink containers? How many plastic bags? How many straws, caps, containers?

Do you shop green with your reusable totes but still use plastic bags for your produce? Do you buy single servings instead of bulk? Do you buy recycled content toilet paper in a plastic wrapping?

If you are doing what you can with obvious disposable plastic, do you know that some body scrubs, toothpastes and other beauty products contain small plastic polyethylene beads that are designed to be flushed to the environment?

Do you ever stop to think about all the plastic you consume and discard each day, each month, each year? And then multiply that by the number of people in the US? And then by the rest of the world? That’s a lot of plastic. A heck of a lot. Especially since it doesn’t degrade in any comprehensible time frame.  In fact, every piece of plastic made in the last fifty or so years, except for the less than 1/2 percent that has been incinerated, is still around somewhere in our environment.

That’s right. Every single piece. And a whole bunch of it is clogging our oceans in giant plastic patches.

I’m sure you recycle. But recycling plastic is just downcycling – the plastic is still around, just put to another use, but just for the life of that product. It then usually can’t be recycled again. So a plastic bottle becomes a purse, and then the purse goes to the landfill. 

Beth at FakePlasticFish is one of my favorite people. She has documented her journey to a plastic-free lifestyle at her blog, and continues to fight for reducing our use of disposable plastic. She spearheaded the succesful campaign to get Brita to recycle its filters. She is my no plastic Superhero. I always ask myself “What would Beth do” when I’m stuck.

So, when Oprah did her Earth Day episode, I was thrilled. Oprah had Fabien Cousteau as a guest, among others, to talk about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (the largest landfill in the world), I thought of Beth. When Oprah had her epiphany about plastics, I thought of Beth.

So what did Beth do? She prepared a video letter to Oprah, explaining her journey, and asking Oprah to use her voice, her clout, to urge others to get rid of plastic. Her heartfelt, sincere story about her journey is well worth a watch. And, just perhaps, if enough of us talk about it, Oprah will hear, and, well, that could lead to amazing things for this Earth of ours:




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Warning: These baby bottles and canned goods contain a chemical known to cause reproductive harm

canned food goodsWould you buy a can of beans with a warning on it that it may contain a chemical known to the state of California to cause reproductive harm?

What about a baby bottle?

If you live in California, you are probably familiar with Proposition 65’s standard warning. Even if you don’t realize it.

You’ve probably seenproposition 65 warning sign a warning at the gas station. Or perhaps on some adhesives or similar consmer products. Or for alcoholic beverages.

A Proposition 65 warning sign is placed on consumer products or posted in areas to give warnings to consumers that using the product or being in the area can expose them to a chemical or chemicals that cause cancer and/or birth defects or other reproductive harm.

Proposition 65 requires a warning – it doesn’t prohibit the sale of the items. Just a warning.

But would you buy canned goods with such a warning?

Why do I ask? Because the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) published notice that it will consider adding bisphenol A (BPA) to the list of chemicals known to the state of California to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm. BPA is being proposed to be added as a development toxicant. The meeting to consider adoption is set for July 15, 2009. I don’t know whether it will be adopted or not, but I’m just wondering what will happen if it is.

You might not be very familiar with BPA, buy you probably have it in your body. Biomonitoring found that 93% of Americans have BPA in their systems.

BPA is a basic monomer of polycarbonate plastic, so it is found in polycarbonate plastic containers. Polycarbonate is used for baby bottles, many of the 5 gallon water bottles, and other similar hard plastic containers. It is also used for the lining of most canned foods and beverages.

Proposition 65 requires a warning unless the business can establish that there is no exposure from use of the product above the significant risk level (for carcinogens) or the no observable effects level (for chemicals that cause reproductive harm). However, Proposition 65 allows a business to place a warning on a product if the company based on its knowledge, or assumption, that a Proposition 65 listed chemical is present without attempting to evaluate the levels of exposure. Companies do this because it is less expensive than to undertake a risk assessment. So companies slap on labels on products based upon the presumption of listed chemicals being present in products, such as lead and phthalates in polyvinyl chloride plastic.

Putting a label on may not reduce product sales for product such as auto or hardware products, but I imagine it will give consumers pause on a canned food or baby bottle. But, if BPA is added, without the identification of a regulatory “no risk” level, then those canned goods will have to contain such a label. Otherwise, companies will be subject to Proposition 65 lawsuits. The thing about Prop 65 is that it contains a bounty hunter provision, which allows private enforcement, and allows plaintiff firms to recover attorneys’s fees. Proposition 65 also has a penalty provision of up to $2,500 per day for each violation. So, because of that, many firms just put labels on products that may contain listed chemicals that could result in exposure to protect themselves from suits.

But BPA is found in so many products. Now, a warning probably wouldn’t be required for a bike helmet, for example, made of polycarbonate plastic because there isn’t any exposure. But for food contact items, it is established that BPA leaches out of polycarbonate plastic and the linings of canned food. Which may mean that such companies are driven to found alternatives to avoid warnings.

In any event, it will be interesting to see what develops. Now, if you don’t want to be exposed to BPA, which is a hormone disruptor and is potentially harmful to fetuses and babies, you can skip polycarbonate plastic for food storage. For canned foods, go for fresh, frozen, dried or jarred instead of metal cans.

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Plastic, Plastic Everywhere: What Would Beth Do?

green moms carnival logoThe second Green Moms Carnival this month is about plastic.  It is hosted by Beth at My Plastic-free Life (formerly FakePlasticFish who is my no-plastic Superhero).  You really should go check out her blog – she describes her inspirational journey to a lifestyle free of disposable plastic.  And she is a woman who truly practices what she preaches – but never in a holier than though manner.  Instead she is quietly galvanizing force.  Sharing some meals last year at the BlogHer08 convention brought home to me just how much disposable plastic we use every day.

Since then, I found out about the absolutely frightening amount of plastic in the Pacific Ocean.  I also found out about polyethylene plastic beads being in hundreds of beauty and personal care products and am sterering clear of those products. 

And since then, really, since Beth, I’ve made efforts to get rid of disposable plastic.  We already used re-usable shopping bags and totes for shopping, but I made an effort to use all the time, from the grocery store to Target to Macys.  I also got some awesome re-usable produce and organic re-usable bags for buying bulk from Plum Creek Mercantile (I love them!).  I use stainless steel straws purchased through Amazon, carry my own stainless steel cutlery for lunches at work (no disposable plastic forks), and thumb my nose at my son’s school by refusing to use a plastic bag for his towel each week. (we use a re-usable nylon tote).  I shocked my daughter’s friends’ parents at her birthday party by using my good china for birthday cake instead of disposable plastic.   

Right now, I’m focusing on disposable plastic – plastic bags, plastic packaging, plastic packing tape, etc. – the things that you don’t re-use.  So, for example, I don’t buy single serve items, but buy in bulk, and then use small containers to make the items portable.  Like apple sauce (if I don’t have time to make my own) in a large glass container spooned into reusable containers for lunches.  I always ask myself – what would Beth do? 

But it still feels like it isn’t enough. I look around our house and just see so much plastic.  I try to skip it all the time, but it is virtually impossible to get completely away from plastic.  And, to be frank, I am glad to have my plastic car seats for my children.  I recognize that plastic has made our lives easier and more safe in a lot of ways.  But it is not without its problems.  
ocean trashWhy is plastic such a problem?  It is made with petroleum – a non-renewable resource.  It doesn’t degrade or break down in any relevant time frame so it fills our landfills and chokes our oceans. Just imagine – every piece of plastic made in the last 50 years or so, except for the 1/2 percent or so that has been incinerated, is still around in our environment. 

How much plastic do you think will exist in the next 50 years? 

And recycling helps, but it doesn’t make the plastic disappear.  The recycled items are just made into other plastic items, which may not be recyclable.  Most plastic is not particular eco-friendly in its manufacture either – particularly polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic.  Plastic items may also be exposing us to potentially harmful chemicals – think of hormone-disrupting bispenol A in polycarbonate plastic or the neurotoxin lead in polyvinyl chloride. 

We really need to do more.  I saw a Disney Thumbelina doll at Target yesterday and was heartened to see the post-consumer recycled content packaging replacing the typical plastic packaging.  But it did NOT change the fact that the doll was still just a plastic doll.  

And I seem to be a bit cranky about it lately.  Two nights ago at the grocery store (granted, it was around 10 pm), the man behind me in the check out line asked me how I remembered to bring my re-usable bags.  And I snapped at him – “Well, I just think about what will happen if I don’t bring them – when my kids grow up the world will be crap.”  Not the most diplomatic response. 

I’ve also snapped at my husband, who often doesn’t think about it and buys single serve apple sauce or similar items. 
So I guess this is a preachy post because I’m going to urge you to do something about plastic.  I really think we have to do more – to conserve our resources, to protect our oceans, to preserve our Earth.  Let’s all try to: 

  • Use re-usable bags and totes for shopping, whether at the grocery store or a department store.  No more plastic bags.  If you think a single plastic bag is no big deal, consider that Americans throw away some 100 billion polyethylene plastic bags every year.
  •  Use re-usable bags for your produce too.
  •  Skip the bags at the dry cleaner.  If you need a bag, then you can buy a fabric bag to use.
  •  Try a stainless steel or glass straw (both available on Amazon) instead of the disposable plastic ones.  My kids absolutely love our stainless straws.  They are super easy to clean.
  • Carry your own cutlery.  Virtually all take-out restaurants are glad to forego giving you disposable forks and knives.
  • Use a re-usable stainless steel bottle for your water or coffee or whatever you drink.
  • Bring your own containers for take out.  Most of the places I lunch out frequently are more than willing to use my containers from home for my lunch when I eat out.
  • Look for items with less packaging.  Buy concentrated. Buy in bulk. 

Any if you aren’t sure, just ask, What Would Beth Do? 

Two Common Preservatives May Have Hormone Disrupting Effects – Should We Be Concerned?

baby in nestYou may have heard about bisphenol A (BPA) in polycarbonate plastic and canned foods and beverages and know that it is of concern because it appears to be a hormone disruptor.

Your probably know that phthalates in personal care and cleaning products are also linked to hormone disrupting effects.

But do you ever wonder what other compounds in our food and consumer products have hormone disrupting effects?  And how all these compounds work together, or if they do?  

So, what are hormone disruptors?  The endocrine system releases hormones which are chemical messengers.  They are received by receptors which then act on the message received.  Endocrine disruptors interfere with this chemical messenger system, disrupting the messenger. 

If we are exposed to many different endocrine disruptors, what is the effect?  And how many are we exposed to?  Does it matter?  

study published in December found two common food additives had estrogenic effects in the lab got me wondering about it, and I’m still working on it.  And before I tell you about the study, this study does NOT show that the two compounds have estrogenic effects in laboratory animals or humans – the study involved studying the compounds in cultures.  Okay, so this study found that propyl gallate and 4-hexyl resorcinal both showed estrogenic activity in laboratory cultures.  Propyl gallate is a preservative used to prevent fats and oils from spoiling.  It is found in all sorts of foods, including baked goods, shortening, dried meats, candy, mayonnaise and dried milk. 4-hexyl resorcinol, is used to prevent shrimp, lobsters, and other shellfish from discoloring. 

The researchers caution that further studies on laboratory animals must be conducted before any conclusions can be reached.  Effects shown in the laboratory do not always mean that any effect will be seen in laboratory animals or humans. 

But, following the controversy surround the No More Toxic Tub report from the Environmental Working Group, I’m even more concerned about the combined effects of the numerous chemicals.  Paul Foster, deputy director of the National Toxicology Program Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction, was reported as expressing concern over the mixtures of estrogenic compounds.  “There are examples where you can take dose levels of compounds on their own that won’t produce an effect, but when you put these compounds together, you may get something different,” he said. 

What I found more alarming was the report that 
“Foster said people should keep in mind that they already ingest significant numbers of fairly potent estrogens in their diets by consuming foods like tofu and milk, so findings like these shouldn’t necessarily scare people until more research has been conducted.” 
What scared me was not his focus on understanding the context of the research, but the seeming benign statement that it is okay becdause we already ingest “significant numbers of fairly potent estrogens.”
Okay, so perhaps I should take comfort in that – perhaps there isn’t much risk from the preservatives, especially since there are naturally occurring compounds that have estrogenic activity (phytoestrogens).
Yet, the FDA’s record of protecting us does not give me comfort.  For example, the FDA has continued to fail to act on BPA, another hormone disruptor, used in food contact storage containers such as baby bottles and the linings of virtually all canned foods and beverages.  In 2008, the FDA was criticized by the FDA Science Advisory Board, an independent advisory board, for ignoring critical evidence in determing the safety of BPA. 
 So, I’m not reassured.  I remained concern about not only the impact to me and my children, but how these chemicals will affect future generations.  And how we don’t seem to really know all of the sources of exposure to these compounds.  So, I’ll keep trying to limit exposure to those hormone disruptors that I know about, and for which there are alternatives available.  Instead of polycarbonate plastic, I’ll use stainless steel or glass.  Instead of canned foods, I’ll use fresh, frozen, dried or jarred.  Instead of phthalates, I’ll look for products without phthalates, meaning no synthetic fragrances.  I’ll do the best I can. 

FDA Subcommitee Harshly Critical of Draft Safety Report on Bisphenol A (BPA)

babyI recently expressed concern about whether the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Subcommitee reviewing the FDA’s draft safety assessment of the use of bisphenol A (BPA) could provide a fair review.  I expressed concern because it had been revealed that Subcommittee Chairman Prof. Philbert had failed to disclose a significant donation from pro-plastics contributor Charles Gelman to the chairman’s research center at the Univ. of Michigan.  To resolve that question, the FDA Chair has issued a letter stating that he agrees with the findings of the review conducted by William McConagh a of FDA’s Office of Accountability and Integrity.  That review found that the $5,000,000 donation made by Charles Gelman and the unrestricted grant to the University of Michigan from Dow Chemical for a risk study of dioxin do not require Prof. Philbert to recuse himself but he nevertheless recommends that Prof. Philbert refrain from voting on the questions before the Board relating to BPA.

In any event, imagine my surprise to learn that the Subcommittee’s scientific peer-review report roundly criticizes the FDA’s draft BPA safety assessment.  So perhaps science isn’t for sale after all, at least with respect to the Subcommitee.

Okay, to catch you up, low level exposure to BPA has been linked to hormone disrupting effects in laboratory animals.  BPA is the key monomer of polycarbonate plastic, used for baby bottles.  BPA is also found in the epoxy resins used to line virtually all canned foods and beverages.  BPA can leach out of polycarbonate plastic and the epoxy resins and into your food.  Whether the effects seen in laboratory animals are likely to occur in humans based upon current levels of exposure is subject to much intense debate in the scientific community.  The National Toxicology Program (NTP) issued a report finding the risk a 3 on the NTP’s 5 point scale for 3 health endpoints.  The FDA has maintained that BPA is safe.

In August of this year, the FDA issued a draft report finding BPA safe.  Then, the FDA convenened a Subcommitee to review the draft report.  I thought that the Subcommitee would be, in essence a rubber stamp.

But surprise, surprise, the FDA’s Subcommitee does not agree with the draft safety assessment on BPA.  In fact, it is pretty critical of it.  It finds that the “draft FDA report does not articulate reasonable and appropriate scientific support for the criteria applied to select data for use in the assessment.  Specifically, the Subcommittee does not agree that the large number of non-GLP [good laboratory practice] studies should be excluded from use in the safety assessment.”  The report goes on to state “[c]oupling together the available qualitative and quantitative information (including the application of uncertainty factors) provides a sufficient scientific basis to conclude that the Margins of Sfatey defined by the FDA as ‘adequate’ are, in fact, inadequate.”

Okay, so what does that mean?

Well, what it means is that the peer reviewed assessment of the FDA’s draft report on BPA is telling the FDA that the draft report is inadequate.  The Subcommitee has particular criticisms – it finds that the FDA didn’t use enough infant formula samples and didn’t adequately account of variations among the samples.  It also finds that the FDA didn’t take into account multiple sources of BPA exposure.  But it also is particularly critical of the FDA’s wholesale discounting of studies found adequate by the NTP.  And, I think that this is most important.  The Subcommittee harshly criticizes the FDA for discounting or failing to consider scores of studies that have linked BPA to adverse health effects in animals.

Is the debate over?  No.  The Subcommitee’s report will be considered as part of a briefing on October 31, 2008.  What is likely is that more research will be approved.  And, in the interim, the FDA has issued a Statement on the release of the Subcommitee’s report, pointing out that “the present consensus among regulatory agenices in the United Sates, Canada, Europe and Japan is that current levels of exposure to BPA through food packaging do not pose an immediate health risk to the general population, including infants and babies.”

In light of the animal studies and the conclusion from the NTP finding “some” concern for effects on the prostate, brain and behavior, you may not want to take that risk.  So, if you want to try to avoid BPA, skip polycarbonate plastic.  Lots of alternatives exist – and don’t cost any more than polycarbonate plastic.  So you can play it safe.  Also, instead of canned foods and beverages, go for jarred, fresh, frozen or dried.

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The FDA and Bisphenol A in Baby Bottles – Science for Sale

Baby bottleAnd so the bisphenol A (BPA) debate goes on.  Is science for sale?  It seems more and more like it is.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee has sent a letter to the Food and Drug Administration questioning whether the FDA has been unduly influenced by the plastic industry in its continued assertion that BPA is safe.  The letter follows the news that the research center of the chairman of the FDA’s BPA advisory panel received a $5 million donation from a retired medical device manufacturer that believes BPA is “perfectly safe.”  The $5 million donation from Charles Gerlman occurred in July, the same month that chairman Martin Philbert was appointed to chair the FDA’s BPA subcommittee.  Philbert did not disclose to the FDA the donation to the institute that he founded and co-directs.  Prior to the donation, the institute’s annual budget was $210,000.  And who says that science isn’t for sale? 

The Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee sent the letter on October 15, 2008 and the response is due by October 29, 2008.  I’m curious how the FDA will respond, although I’m not holding my breath because the CPSC still hasn’t responded to the letter sent by the same committee on BPA in April.

The subcommittee that Philbert chairs will decide if the conclusions in the FDA’s draft report need to be amended.  That report found BPA safe, despite the report from the NTP finding “some concern” (a 3 on the 5 point scale) for certain health endpoints – effects on the prostate gland and brain, and for behavioral effects in fetuses, infants and children.  But the FDA’s draft report has been subject to much scrutiny.  And, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel also reported yesterday that the draft FDA report finding BPA safe was largely written by those with a financial stake in the decision – the plastics industry and others.

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

The newspaper reviewed the body of evidence that the task force considered. It found memos with entire sections blacked out, reviews commissioned by the American Plastics Council, an arm of the American Chemistry Council, and reviews completed by consulting firms with clients who havefinancial interests in the sale of bisphenol A.

Many of these reviews of individual studies are at odds with the NTP’s reviews of the same studies.

For example, one study funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Defense looked at the effects of bisphenol A on prostate development in rats.

The FDA called it “severely limited,” in contrast to the NTP’s review, which labeled it of “high utility.”

Another government-funded study, which also looked at the effects of the chemical on the prostate, again was considered of “high utility” by the NTP for its evaluation, and it was deemed “very limited” by the FDA.

The FDA subcommittee’s statement is expected shortly.  It is due to be presented at a meeting on October 31, 2008.   Here’s hoping the FDA gets it right, but I’m not holding my breath.  In the meantime, Ill do what I can to avoid BPA, from not using polycarbonate plastic to skipping canned foods and beverages. 

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