Well, after years of contending that bisphenol A (BPA) is perfectly safe, the Food and Drug Administration has reversed course. On Friday, the FDA announced that it now considers BPA to be of some concern for effects on the brain, behavior and prostrate glands of fetuses, infants and young children (consistent with the National Toxicology Program’s findings).
But, even though the FDA now has some concern about BPA’s safety, it claims it can’t do anything. The Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel reports that top FDA officials say that while BPA’s safety is uncertain, they are powerless to regulate it. Why? Because it is listed among some 3,000 chemicals that are “generally regarded as safe” and that designation exempts those chemicals from scrutiny.
As the FDA explains:
Current BPA food contact uses were approved under food additive regulations issued more than 40 years ago. This regulatory structure limits the oversight and flexibility of FDA. Once a food additive is approved, any manufacturer of food or food packaging may use the food additive in accordance with the regulation. There is no requirement to notify FDA of that use. For example, today there exist hundreds of different formulations for BPA-containing epoxy linings, which have varying characteristics. As currently regulated, manufacturers are not required to disclose to FDA the existence or nature of these formulations. Furthermore, if FDA were to decide to revoke one or more approved uses, FDA would need to undertake what could be a lengthy process of rulemaking to accomplish this goal.
So, FDA is going to study BPA some more. And it is looking for some legislative help so that it can regulate BPA, at least according to the officials quoted by the Milwaukee Sentinel. But that doesn’t help the rest of us very much if we are looking for ways to avoid BPA exposure, particularly if you are pregnant, or have young children.
And it isn’t very satisfying that at this late date, more than 10 years after leading scientists questioned BPA’s safety, that the FDA is reaching this decision but taking the position it can’t do anything. More stalling at the behest of the chemical industry?
The American Chemistry Council continues to proclaim that BPA is perfectly safe, because, as the ACC always says, BPA has not been proven harmful to children or adults. The FDA held a conference call on Friday for some media to discuss BPA. And while I was not invited, I avidly followed one of the journalists who was tweeting the call. And she kept tweeting statements of the ACC representative about how safe BPA was and how all the studies were flawed because they failed to account for human metabolization of BPA. When I tweeted at her to ask about the fact that infants under 3 months lack the full complement of enzymes necessary to metabolize BPA (and fetuses have none), the ACC representative completely dismissed the scientific studies. If you don’t know who the ACC is, it is an organization whose members include Monsanto, Bayer, Merck, DuPont and many others. And the FDA has been accused of being too cozy with the chemical industry lobbyists, including the chair of the FDA panel taking a $5 million donation.
And to be honest, the FDA’s reversal really annoys the heck out of me after FDA Acting Commissioner Andrew C. von Eschenbach, MD’s article, Andy’s Take on BPA from August of 2008. In his article, he stated that “with progress comes peril!” He then argued that “science creates these products and science must inform us of their risks.” So, he contended that until science showed us that BPA was unsafe, we should assume that it is safe. Which seemed like a bunch of bunk to me. If you believe that “with progress comes peril”, then it seems to me that you would take a cautious approach, and instead have science inform us that a chemical was safe before it was used.
So what can you do if you want to avoid BPA? Well, skip polycarbonate plastic and avoid canned foods and beverages. And you really might want to, particularly if you are pregnant. In a non-scientific CBS Early Show experiment, Kelly Wallace ate a sandwich made from canned tuna, and had her blood drawn. She then spent 2 days avoiding BPA, and had her blood drawn again. The first set of blood samples showed a BPA level five times higher than what is found in the average US woman.
To avoid canned foods and beverages, go for fresh, frozen, dried or jarred in glass or a plastic other than polycarconate. Polycarbonate is in the #7 “other plastic” group. Not all #7 plastic is polycarbonate, however. If you need BPA free feeding gear for kids and babies, check out my dear friend’s website, The Soft Landing. If you need a guide, check out Z Recommends’ The ZRecs Guide for advice on BPA-free children’s products.