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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