FDA Calls BPA Risky, but Puts off Regulation

On Friday, the Food and Drug Administration made its long-awaited announcement on the safety of bisphenol-A, a chemical ingredient in hard plastics, food can liners, and other common products. The verdict? “[R]ecent studies provide reason for some concern about the potential effects of BPA on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland of fetuses, infants and children. FDA also recognizes substantial uncertainties with respect to the overall interpretation of these studies and their potential implications for human health effects of BPA exposure.”

While it’s good to hear FDA finally admit that BPA could be a health threat, its plan going forward lacks the aggressiveness many were expecting. Instead of announcing a regulatory path to limit consumer exposure to BPA, FDA reiterated warnings that parents throw away their children’s hard plastic baby bottles or cups if they are scratched and that that consumers avoid putting hot liquids in BPA containers.

Urvashi Rangan of Consumers Union hit the nail on the head when he called FDA’s message “confusing.” How can the agency say that something as seemingly-benign as a scratched bottle poses a potential threat, but not take precautionary steps? Food Safety News reports:

Dr. Rangan believes there is ample evidence for the government to regulate the chemical in food containers. "FDA's admission of concern with BPA is an encouraging change in its position and we hope it will lead to concrete protection for consumers. However, we are concerned that the new advice on reducing exposure puts the onus on consumers to protect themselves until such a ban is put in place." 

Consumers have lived too long under a cloud of uncertainty: while the federal government has sat on the sidelines, state and local governments have taken action, and manufacturers and retailers have taken BPA-laden products off store shelves.

At the same time, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has an interesting story that evokes some sympathy for the FDA. Apparently, officials at the agency feel hamstrung by their own regulatory framework:

FDA officials - including Sharfstein; Lynn Goldmann, a consultant to the FDA; and Jesse Goodman, the FDA's acting chief scientist - told the Journal Sentinel they were frustrated by the antiquated framework of the FDA's regulatory process.

Officials say they would like chemical manufacturers to report information about the chemical to them, including how much BPA they produce and where and how it is used.

But because BPA was classified years ago as an indirect food additive, it is not subject to the kind of scrutiny that other chemicals are. Without critical data about BPA, it is impossible to regulate the chemical, officials said. 

Sharfstein told the paper, "We may have to go after legislation to change it.”

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