Before you call for a ban on BPA, Ask yourself if the science supports it

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Ms. Rizzo conveniently fails to mention that since 2007, there have been more than a dozen comprehensive reviews by independent government scientists in Canada, Europe, Japan, Australia and the United States on BPA’s safety. Each of these reviews was performed by competent independent authorities and each concluded the current uses of BPA in food contact materials are safe. Earlier today, Health Canada released an update to its 2008 risk assessment reaffirming that BPA’s use in food contact applications poses no health risk for infants, children and adults. All of these agencies considered the information put forward by Ms. Rizzo in her postings in a weight of evidence approach, and all have re-affirmed BPA’s safety in food contact applications.

Yet the Breast Cancer Fund and groups like it, remain committed to focusing on only those studies that fit their agenda without regard to scientific integrity. In articles and blogs such as Ms. Rizzo’s, we continually hear that there are hundreds of studies showing BPA may cause harm. We fail to hear that a dozen comprehensive reviews conclude that it does not cause harm.

It is critical to understand that FDA scientists do not simply count positive and negative studies as if they are votes. FDA scientists review all the data, to identify the best most relevant data and then determine what that data demonstrates with respect to safety. The fact that FDA scientists determined that many published studies on BPA are not adequate to be considered in a safety assessment does not mean that those studies were not reviewed. It means that they are inadequate to bear on the question of safety. FDA scientists make those same determinations every day in assessing the safety of all the products that FDA regulates. In its review of the safety of BPA, FDA has done nothing more or less than apply the same high standard of data that it requires from manufacturers to demonstrate the safety of their products.     

It is unfortunate that the “positive” study results are far more attractive to the press while the more rigorous studies showing no effects are essentially ignored. This has resulted in BPA being a poster child for efforts to regulate through blogs and articles hoping to create hysteria, rather than through sound scientific review.

As alluded to in Rizzo’s piece, BPA is used to manufacture the epoxy resin coatings used in most metal food packaging, and has been for many decades.  What is not mentioned is that according to FDA records, there has not been an incidence of foodborne illness resulting from a failure of metal packaging in more than 38 years. CDC estimates that each year roughly one out of six Americans, or 48 million people, gets sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die from foodborne diseases. While Ms. Rizzo may be willing to dismiss the very real, very tragic consequences of food borne illness in her call to call to eliminate epoxy resin coatings made with BPA, I would hope the general public would remain mindful of the critical importance of food packaging in maintaining safe and nutritious food, and avoid subjecting US families to unintended adverse consequences in shifting away form epoxy resins.  

There is one point on which we can both agree -- the American people deserve the best.   That’s exactly why FDA, and countless other government regulatory agencies around the world stand by their conclusions that the use of BPA in food contact applications poses no risk to people at any age.

So before you call for the ban on a material that has been studied for decades and found safe as recently as today by the Canadian government, perhaps you should ask yourself whether the science supports it and whether uncertainties that come with new materials are worth the risks of giving up a proven, safe technology that has provided Americans with decades of food protection. FDA has asked that question and the answer is a resounding no.

Dr. Cheeseman is a managing director at Steptoe & Johnson, LLP. He has 20 years of experience conducting and overseeing safety assessments at FDA and served for 13 years in a leadership capacity within FDA’s Foods Program.