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FDA verdict on bisphenol A provokes divided US response

By Rory Harrington, 18-Jan-2010

Related topics: Safety & Regulation

Trade bodies and environmental groups in the US have delivered widely differing verdicts on the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) update to its position on bisphenol A (BPA).

Industry groups said the FDA announcement on Friday that BPA was now of “some concern” highlighted the fact that the regulatory body did not say the substance was unsafe. However, a prominent environmental lobby group labelled the FDA statement a U-turn and said the decision was the “beginning of the end” for the chemical’s continued use in food packaging for infants.

The reactions came after the FDA said evaluation of recent research on BPA had resulted in it viewing the chemical with concern, backing efforts to remove it from baby bottles and calling for the regulation of the substance to be beefed up. It said it would also be carrying more research into the effects of BPA.

Industry response

The American Chemistry Council (ACC) said statements by the FDA and the US Health and Human Services confirmed that “exposure to BPA in food contact products has not been proven harmful to children or adults”. The chemical industry trade group acknowledged that the agencies had also called for more research into the issue and provided guidance on how parents could limit their children’s exposure to BPA.

But it stressed that regulatory agencies around the world continued to say the chemical did not pose a threat to human health and that scientific data backed the belief that once ingested, BPA was quickly excreted from the body.

“While ACC recognises that HHS and FDA are attempting to address public confusion about BPA, we are disappointed that some of the recommendations are likely to worry consumers and are not well-founded”, said an ACC statement.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) claimed the FDA/HSS statement had concluded “baby bottles, infant sipping cups, canned infant formula and other foods in cans with linings that utilize BPA are safe, and that there is no need for consumers to change their consumption habits”.

“As new research and studies are conducted, it is the obligation of our industry and the appropriate regulatory authorities to review that evidence and make the appropriate decisions that ensure the continued safety of our products”, added GMA senior vice president Robert Brackett.

The body said it would work with all stakeholders to ensure "the safety and quality of our products and packaging”.

BPA Waterloo

But green campaigning body Environmental Working Group (EWG) said the FDA had reversed its position in a decision that “could be the Waterloo for BPA and ended what it called “nearly a decade of agency collusion with BPA manufacturers”.

On Friday, Jane Houlihan, EWG’s senior vice-president for research, said: “Today’s announcement by FDA is the beginning of the end of exposing our children to this toxic, hormone-altering chemical during the earliest stages of life. It represents a victory for parents and children, and validation of the hundreds of independent studies linking BPA to numerous and serious health problems.”