Toxins in Food Packaging Aren't Going Away

Despite being linked to a host of health problems, BPA is staying on supermarket shelves.

Do you like your beans with a side of BPA? (Photo: px photography/Getty Images)

Apr 2, 2012
Megan Bedard is a sucker for sustainable agriculture and a good farmers market, she likes writing about food almost as much as eating it.

The verdict's in, and environmentalists aren't happy. Neither are health advocates, scientists, and baby mommas everywhere.

On Friday, after dragging its feet on an appeal filed by environmental groups, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced it would not ban bisphenol A, more commonly known as BPA, in food packaging.

BPA, which mimics estrogen in the body, has been linked to a host of maladies. Tests on mice have connected the chemical to developmental and reproductive abnormalities as well as precancerous changes in the prostrate and breast.

The Boston Herald reports that in epidemiological studies, "researchers have reported correlations between BPA levels in people and higher risk of ailments including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and liver problems." 

What studies do show definitively is that BPA is metabolized quickly.

BPA was integrated into plastics in the 1940s to harden polycarbonate plastics and make epoxy resin. Now, it's ubiquitous, found in thousands of items from baby bottles to food packaging. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), BPA is present in the urine of 93 percent of Americans.

As we reported last week, a new study came out illustrating that BPA, even in small doses, is worse than previously thought—and has permanent effects on organs.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that 4.7 million metric tons of BPA will be produced this year, generating $8 billion dollars for companies that produce it. 

For its part, California has banned the stuff from baby bottles and sippy cups. Major companies like Campbell's Soup and H.J. Heinz have plans to nix the chemical in their bottles and cans. But as for a nation-wide ban? That's going to take some time.

Representatives of the FDA say the National Resource Defense Council—who submitted a petition in 2008 to ban BPA, then filed in 2011 when the FDA didn't respond—didn't provide sufficient evidence for banning the chemical. The FDA cited small test samples and questioned dosing methods, saying that more research is necessary. The Administration also said its ruling was not the final word.

Unsurprisingly, the NRDC is not content to have humans play guinea pigs while evidence plays out to satisfy the FDA.

"We always support more research but we also wonder, when is enough enough?" Dr. Sarah Janssen, a senior scientist with the NRDC, told the Boston Herald. "What the FDA is saying is: We’re going to keep studying it and in the meantime you’re going to still eat it and then maybe later we’ll tell you it’s not safe."

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