FDA failure to ban BPA in food, containers endangers health, lives

chemical's use in containers, food puts health, lives at risk

April 30, 2012 

  • At issue | April 6 wire services report, "BPA in food cans: FDA approves; moms don't; consumers lead push to rid containers of substance"

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently ruled against banning the toxic chemical bisphenol-A, called BPA, as a food additive. With this ruling, the FDA chose once again to side with the chemical industry and profit-driven corporations over protecting the health of America's citizens.

The fact that the FDA even issued the decision was not due to the agency's concern for public health but in response to a court order. More than three years ago, the Natural Resources Defense Council filed a formal request with the FDA, asking that it revoke approval of BPA as a food additive. The group received no response for more than two years, when it decided enough was enough and sued the FDA for an official response.

Moms like me across the country were eagerly awaiting this decision, hoping against hope that our government would finally hear us. For years, we have called and written our elected officials, organized marches and rallies, and talked to our families and friends about this issue around the dinner table. In these conversations, many are inevitably under the impression that there are government standards in place to protect them and their families from ingesting harmful chemicals.

But here's the truth: BPA is a hormone-disrupting chemical, linked by numerous scientific studies to cancer, abnormal brain development and reproductive complications.

BPA is used in many baby bottles, sippy cups and infant formula, as well as in canned foods and beverages. Even more disturbing, BPA remains legal.

The old maxim says that change comes slowly, a statement that certainly applies to this case. But it is occurring. At last count, 11 U.S. states, the European Union, Canada and even China have banned the use of BPA in children's feeding products.

BPA-free baby bottles and sippy cups are now commonly found in the aisles of many supermarkets, chain stores and specialty shops.

Here in Kentucky, a recent project conducted by the Kentucky Environmental Foundation found that it is increasingly difficult to buy baby bottles and sippy cups containing BPA. Volunteers in five towns and cities across the state — Lexington, Louisville, Owensboro, Berea and London — spent hours traipsing to stores and surveying the baby products on the shelves. Only one was able to purchase BPA-based products.

This is welcome news, but it is not enough. Baby bottles and sippy cups containing the harmful chemical can still be found in many discount stores, vendors' malls and flea markets throughout the state. And of course, one need look no further than the canned goods lining the shelves of our grocery stores to recognize that BPA remains a part of our everyday lives.

As with many other public health issues, the most vulnerable among us are also the most affected. Two recent studies published in the scientific publications Environmental Health and the Journal of Perinatology concluded that people with lower incomes and people of color are bearing the brunt of exposure to BPA.

The FDA had the chance to do the right thing: to publicly acknowledge the risks of BPA exposure and, most important, to ban BPA as a food additive. Instead, by continuing to allow this toxic chemical as a food additive, the agency leaves the health and welfare of all Americans at risk. And that is a disgrace.

Beth Ruggles is a retired veterinarian, small business owner and community educator with the Kentucky Environmental Foundation.

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