The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently approved an unusual request from the American Chemistry Council. The chemical industry trade association actually asked the FDA to restrict the use of the chemical bisphenol-A (BPA) in baby bottles and sippy cups.
After millions of dollars spent lobbying to oppose BPA regulations, the chemical industry appeared to be reversing its position. Unfortunately, this was a classic trick, no treat.
It turns out the chemical industry is simply claiming there is no longer a need to regulate BPA in baby bottles, as all of the main manufacturers have already removed the chemical. As their spokesman explained, "All the evidence we have is that those products have been off the market for several years. We're trying to bring clarity and certainty that BPA isn't used in baby bottles and sippy cups today, and it won't be in the future."
So after years of lobbying to block the regulation of BPA -- including defeating state and federal efforts to remove BPA from baby bottles -- the industry says: "Surprise! It's not in there anyway."
This announcement came just days after Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill making California the 11th state to ban BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups.
The industry's press release argued that bans like California's have "become an unnecessary distraction to consumers, legislators and state regulators."
The truth, however, is that the industry's request to the FDA is itself a distraction to consumers, legislators and state regulators from the real issues with BPA: that it is now showing up in 93 percent of Americans, and that the largest source of exposure is likely canned foods.
Even though the industry failed to kill the California bill outright, they were successful in removing provisions related to restricting BPA in canned foods.
So now they are redoubling their efforts, as the AP recently noted, "to head off tougher laws that would ban the chemical from other types of packaging," and to "head off state-level efforts to ban BPA across the U.S."
Despite a slow pace, the FDA is now studying BPA and is likely to regulate it in the future. Last year the FDA noted "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 next big fight over BPA will occur in food packaging. Scientists, advocacy organizations, government agencies, and industry all know it.
The Breast Cancer Fund reported in September that based on their research on canned foods marketed to children, "every food sample tested positive for BPA," very likely due to BPA leaching from the liners in the cans.
The industry response is identical to their opposition to concerns about BPA in baby bottles: they assert that BPA is totally safe and that there are no drop-in alternatives.
Nonetheless, individuals should be able to know whether the products they are putting in, on, and around their families contain chemicals of concern like BPA.
Today, there is still no public disclosure of which foods may be in cans lined with BPA. And rather than disclosing which food products contain BPA, the industry tells us instead that the chemical has been out of baby bottles for years. To date, only a few companies have disclosed whether they have phased out BPA in canned foods, such as Eden Organics, Muir Glen tomatoes, Native Forest and Native Factor, and Heinz Nurture baby formula cans.
So even though recent bans on BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups are a positive step, these regulations will unfortunately not deal with the broader exposures we are all getting through canned foods.
Until the FDA does its job, people need to ask their favorite food companies to phase out BPA in their cans -- Campbell's recently announced that they won't move away from BPA -- and to ask their regulators to not be spooked by the chemical industry's latest tricks.
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