Equilibrium & Sustainability

FDA faces calls to limit BPA in plastics that contact food

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A coalition of scientists, physicians and environmental groups is calling on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to restrict the use of the industrial chemical bisphenol A, known commonly as BPA, in plastics that contact food.

In a formal petition organized by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and sent to the agency on Thursday, the scientists and groups argue that the federal government should take immediate steps to curb Americans’ exposure to the chemical.

“With Americans overexposed to BPA by more than 5,000 times, the agency must make this a top priority and make a final decision by the 180-day statutory deadline,” Tom Neltner, EDF’s senior director for safer chemicals, said in a statement.

The petition cites findings published last month by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) that indicated harmful impacts from BPA exposure can occur at levels 100,000 times lower than previously assumed.

The document states that, based on FDA estimates of exposures, the average American’s BPA exposure is 5,000 times greater than the new level considered safe by the European board.

“The process EFSA used to reassess the safety of bisphenol is a template for how FDA should be doing it for the hundreds of chemicals it approved decades ago. Transparent, thorough, and grounded in the science,” Neltner said.

Exposure to BPA in food can undermine the proper functioning of the immune and reproductive systems, according to the petition. 

The petitioners stressed that “without a doubt,” the values of BPA to which the average American is exposed “constitute a high health risk and support the conclusion that uses of BPA are not safe.”

The signers demanded an expedited review by the FDA of their petition, which they said proposes amendments that “are intended to significantly increase the safety of the food supply.”

Among the petitioners were the Environmental Defense Fund, Breast Cancer Prevention Partners, Clean Water Action/Clean Water Fund, Consumer Reports, the Endocrine Society, the Environmental Working Group and Healthy Babies Bright Futures, as well as independent consulting scientist Dr. Maricel Maffini and Dr. Linda Birnbaum, former director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and National Toxicology Program.

“FDA has an obligation to protect us from toxic chemicals that can come in contact with our food,” Maffini, a coauthor of the petition, said in a statement. “These new findings should be a wakeup call to the FDA and all of us that our health is in jeopardy unless we take swift action to limit the amount of BPA that can come into contact with our food.” 

Among the amendments included in the petition is a recommendation that the FDA rescind approvals for BPA in adhesives and coatings intended for use in packaging, transporting or holding food.

The same would apply to specific types of coatings used as a food-contact surface in producing, manufacturing, packing, processing, preparing, treating, packaging, transporting or holding food, according to the petition.

The petition also calls for an investigation into establishing a tolerable daily intake of dietary BPA — basing that request on the results of the European panel’s findings in December.

“It’s time for the FDA to take immediate action to protect the public from food-based exposures to this hormonally active chemical that increases our risk of breast cancer, and of other serious health problems,” petitioner Lisette van Vliet, senior policy manager for Breast Cancer Prevention Partners, said in a statement.

Scott Faber, senior vice president of government affairs for the Environmental Working Group, stressed that the FDA “must heed EFSA’s warnings and take immediate and decisive action,” noting that it is “unacceptable that the FDA is allowing Americans to be exposed to BPA at levels over 5,000 times above what’s safe.”

Birnbaum, the former NIEHS director, described the European panel’s findings as “sobering” in a statement, adding that “the harmful effects from BPA can occur at minuscule levels, far below what we’re exposed to.”

“The scientific evidence is now more than enough to require strict limits on the use of BPA in packaging and plastics that come in contact with our food,” Birnbaum said.

In response to the petition, the FDA said in a statement that “there are established regulatory procedures for responding to food additive petitions once they are submitted to the agency that we will follow for all food additive petitions we receive.”

“Therefore, it would be inappropriate for the FDA to comment on the status of the referred submission,” the agency added.

The FDA also said it is aware of the recent EFSA draft opinion on BPA and that it is reviewing that document. While the FDA has not yet completed its review of the draft opinion, the agency stressed its commitment to ensuring the safety of the U.S. food supply.

–Updated on Feb. 9 at 8:57 a.m.

Tags BPA FDA Food and Drug Adminisration

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