The FDA Has Decided Not to Ban BPA–For Now

By Veronique Greenwood | April 2, 2012 12:44 pm


Modern food packaging has transformed our diets for the better in many ways—fresh-tasting canned tomatoes in January and low rates of food-borne disease are not to be scoffed at. But increasing scrutiny of the materials in the cans, bottles, and vacuum packs you bring back from the store have raised fears that certain chemicals—notably, those like bisphenol A (BPA) that can mimic hormones such as estrogen—may be prompting early puberty in children, among other health problems. Last year, the National Resource Defense Council sued the FDA demanding that the agency respond to a petition to ban BPA in food packaging. Yesterday, the FDA announced that it would not be banning BPA, saying that the science linking the chemical to health risks is not yet convincing. But some companies, responding to consumer desires, are already  moving to remove it from their packaging.

Studies have found that there are low levels of BPA present in many people’s urine, but what’s still under discussion is whether the amounts we pick up can do anything to us, and even if it does little to adults, whether there are any stages of development—infancy, say—when BPA exposure might be harmful. Though the research is a work in progress, eleven states, Canada, and the EU have banned the use of BPA in baby bottles, and at the federal level, the FDA has recommended that consumers avoid baby bottles with BPA. Companies, for their part, are moving to respond to consumers’ uneasiness about the chemical. Campbell’s Soup, which uses BPA in its can linings, announced in March that it is planning to phase it out.

Image courtesy of KJGarbutt / flickr

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine
  • Iain

    We didn’t evolve with it in our diet, we have more and more problems with our health (autism is taking off in a big way). Maybe we should do what we can to remove as many modern chemicals as possible from our diets. It certainly won’t hurt and may prove to be extremely beneficial.

  • solitha

    Extremely beneficial… till we start dying from food poisoning and malnutrition…

    Those chemicals are responsible for a lot of the volume and selection you see in your average grocery store. How exactly did our diet evolve? Fresh food in the spring and summer, gorging to build up fat in the fall, and hoping it and crudely-preserved food lasts through the winter so we don’t starve to death.

    The first well-documented autism case was 144 years before BPA was created. I’m not sure how many “modern chemicals” were really rampant in the 1700s.

  • Brian

    solitha – Your scenario about autism is absolutely ignorant regarding the heath issues related to BPA in food. The first cases of Cancer were in early times but it is more rampant now than then. Let’s just try a world without the damn chemical and re-channel our efforts to develop another way of preserving food. The whole idea is to benefit corporation bottom lines by lengthening shelf lives therefor the profit and greed again!

  • Woody Tanaka

    “Those chemicals are responsible for a lot of the volume and selection you see in your average grocery store.”

    Given the average girth of the shoppers in those grocery stores, is this supposed to be a boast or a warning?

  • Victoria Kostadinova

    I grew up in Bulgaria in the 70’s where we were still growing and preserving a lot of our own food every year. What we didn’t grow, we bought fresh at the farmers’ markets when it was available and canned it in jars for the winter. As far as I know, no one ever got sick from food poisoning, or badly canned goods. Know-how went a long way. It was such a quotidian part of our lives, that everyone learned how to preserve food from an early age, and how to tell if a jar of peaches or a sausage, or a barrel of sauerkraut had gone south. It’s not that hard. What is hard, is making the time to put the food away, especially in modern times when we don’t have to do it to survive. Back then, fresh vegetables and fruit just weren’t available year round; everything had a season, and we had no choice but to eat as much freshly off the tree or the garden before we burst, and then preserve the rest. The most wonderful part of all this was that it made each fruit, leaf, and vegetable really special– lettuce and radishes in March, strawberries in May, cherries in June, peaches and tomatoes and cucumbers in July… And it all tasted miraculous for having been grown locally and preserved by hand at home. Yes, there were factory canned goods in the stores, but no one in their right mind would eat them, much less pay money for them. So there you go– buy local, eat it in season, forgo convenience and can it yourself. Then go to bed exhausted in the summer and fall, but with certainty that your food will be good, and good for you.

  • marisa gomilla

    Excallent point Victoria. Too bad most people don’t care what they eat.

  • Vlad

    One atom or molecule ( be that BPA or anything else ) can damage, disrupt or kill one or many cells. Death , disruption or damage of any cell in the long run has a potential of killing or sickening an entire organism. When we eat a banana that comes with myriads of atoms of lead , mercury , radioactive potassium , etc., we take our chances by choice. Why would anyone take chances with a chemical that has never existed before?

  • Nelson Cevallos

    This is outrageous. The FDA should not expect to be 100% sure of BPA toxicity in order to ban it, but rather ask their proponents to prove it is NOT toxic in order to allow it. It is the precautionary principle: if a substance has a suspected risk of being harmful, in the absence of scientific consensus about it, the burden of proof that it is NOT harmful falls on those proposing its use. At the very least they should impose health warnings on those products. But the FDA seems more concerned with safeguarding corporate financial interests than protecting the public health.

  • darlene

    Brian – the only reason cancer is more common now is because we’re not dying of other things first, like infections from wounds, or food poisoning, or a disease like scarlet fever or mumps or polio. We know how to cure or treat so many things that people used to die from, that cancer and heart failure are pretty much the only things left.

  • Victoria Kostadinova

    Nelson, I completely agree– “the burden of proof that it is NOT harmful falls on those proposing its use.” Our culture and business climate make it possible for companies to quickly jump on the use of substances that help them increase sales and profits. When there is so much harm being done– from the huge increase in childhood diabetes, to childhood cancer, to autism, alarm bells should be going off– we need strict regulation of all manmade chemicals! It sure seems like we’ve learned enough from our mistakes– we need to get back to local agriculture with individual producers whom we know and trust and who care about our welfare– not global faceless agrogiants who don’t give a damn for anything but their bottom line.

  • fortune fay

    Recall the FDA, slackers!


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