The Food and Drug Administration infuriated environmentalists on Friday by denying a petition asking it to ban the controversial chemical Bisphenol-A, or BPA, from food packaging.
The Natural Resources Defense Council has been petitioning FDA to ban the chemical from food packaging – it’s used to make some polycarbonate bottles and to line cans – since 2008. It sued in 2011, and a District Court judge ordered FDA to answer by March 31.
On Friday, FDA declined and posted a statement saying that while the agency is concerned about BPA, there wasn’t enough evidence yet to justify radical action. “FDA is pursuing additional studies to address the uncertainties in the findings,” the agency said.
“In addition, FDA is supporting reasonable steps to reduce human exposure to BPA, including actions by industry and recommendations to consumers on food preparation. At this time, FDA is not recommending that families change the use of infant formula or foods, as the benefit of a stable source of good nutrition outweighs the potential risk of BPA exposure,” the statement said.
BPA, is used very widely in food packaging and has been found at various levels in the bodies of just about everyone tested. Tests on animals suggest a range of possible effects, from sexual changes to heart disease and obesity. The NRDC and other groups want it banned.
“The FDA is out of step with scientific and medical research. This illustrates the need for a major overhaul of how the government protects us against dangerous chemicals,” the NRDC’s Sarah Janssen said in a statement.
“The next decision the FDA should make is to remove ‘responsible for protecting the public health’ from its mission statement,” said Jane Houlihan, the Environmental Working Group's senior vice president for research. “Allowing a chemical as toxic as BPA, and linked to so many serious health problems, to remain in food means the agency has veered dangerously off course.”
FDA contends the evidence isn’t that clear.
“Studies employing standardized toxicity tests have thus far supported the safety of current low levels of human exposure to BPA. However, on the basis of results from recent studies using novel approaches to test for subtle effects, both the National Toxicology Program at the National Institutes of Health and FDA have some concern about the potential effects of BPA on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants, and young children,” the agency said.
“In cooperation with the National Toxicology Program, FDA’s National Center for Toxicological Research is carrying out in-depth studies to answer key questions and clarify uncertainties about the risks of BPA,” FDA noted.
Industry, keenly aware of the controversy, is working to find safe replacements for BPA to use in can linings that will work as well to prevent the growth of bacteria, while makers of plastic bottles have virtually phased out the chemical. Canada has banned it.