Last week, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) quietly rejected a petition to ban bisphenol-A (BPA) in food packaging, four years after the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) asked the agency to outlaw the toxin. The agency said that "there is not compelling scientific evidence to justify new restrictions" on the chemical, which is used in many food packaging plastics.
The decision was a blow to public health advocates who cited a growing number of studies concluding that BPA is dangerous. Pretty much anything you read about BPA is scary: It's been linked to everything from miscarriage to diabetes to cardiovascular disease to early puberty to erectile dysfunction. It even makes male mice less attractive. A New York Times Magazine article from last weekend cited exposure to BPA, an "estrogen-mimic," as a potential cause for early puberty among girls. The article said that 93 percent of Americans have traces of BPA in their bodies. Companies, including Campbell's Soup, have already started to independently phase out BPA from food packaging. The FDA, meanwhile, maintains (unironic) guides to help you "minimize your infant's exposure to BPA."
So with scientists, parents and journalists all openly worrying about the impact of BPA on human health, just who is standing up for the chemical?
Chemical companies, of course.
Steven G. Hentges of the American Chemistry Council, a lobbying group for the plastics industry, said that BPA is safe:
"BPA is one of the most thoroughly tested chemicals used today and has a safety track record in food contact of over 40 years." He added, "We have and will continue to rely on the experts at FDA to evaluate the safety of BPA, and respond on the basis of all the available scientific data."
The American Chemistry Council spent more than $10 million last year lobbying government agencies, including the FDA, to convince lawmakers and regulators that its plastics are safe. It joins other industry and corporate groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America and Biotechnology Industry Organization, which deploys considerable resources to sway a federal agency ostensibly looking out for how corporate products affect our health.
Who else has chimed in on BPA?
The North American Metal Packaging Alliance, another industry group, praised the FDA. "A ban without conclusive scientific evidence of risk would compromise the safety of canned foods and beverages," said John Roust, the group's chairman, in an email statement. His group spent $200,000 lobbying the FDA and other agencies last year.
Curiously missing from the recent showering praise on the FDA are the three biggest U.S. producers of BPA: Saudi Basic Industries Corp., Bayer AG and Dow Chemical Co. Dow, at least, spends $8 million a year on lobbying expenditures. The three companies stand to make $8 billion worth of BPA this year, yet remain curiously silent about the FDA's decision. Notably, many of these companies are members of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the undisclosed lobbying front that has also spearheaded attacks on attempts to regulate BPA.
It pays to have friends like the American Chemistry Council speaking out on your behalf.