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This past July the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned the use of the chemical Bisphenol A (BPA) to make baby bottles and sippy cups. Environmental activists would like you to believe the move was designed to protect public health and that more bans are necessary. But the greens are wrong on both counts -- and their advice could imperil public health.
For more than 50 years, manufacturers have safely used BPA to make hard, clear plastics for food containers, medical devices, safety goggles, and more. They also make resins that line aluminum and steel cans to reduce contamination of food and extend shelf-life.
Much of BPA's alleged risk to humans is based on studies of rodents that were administered massive doses, often by injection. The relevance of these studies to humans who are exposed to trace amounts in food is highly questionable. In addition, activists have attempted to use a number of studies conducted on humans to make their case even though reputable scientific bodies around the world have dismissed these studies as seriously flawed or inconclusive.
Activists also condemn BPA simply because it shows up in human urine. All this fact proves is that the human body, unlike rodents, quickly metabolizes BPA without ill effects. An EPA-funded study conducted on human volunteers who were exposed to high levels of BPA underscored this point. The chemical passed through the humans quickly, never reaching levels that pose problems to rodents.
Scientific panels around the world have investigated BPA many times -- examining the full body of research and focusing on the best science available. In Japan, the European Union, Canada, Norway, France and elsewhere, researchers have found no public health risk related to consumer exposure to BPA. Even the Environmental Protection Agency -- which is well known for exaggerating chemical risks -- states that consumer exposure to BPA is likely 100 to 1,000 times lower than EPA's estimated safe-exposure levels for both infants and adults.
Because of activist group petitions, lobbying, and media campaigns, the FDA has continued to spend taxpayer dollars to study and re-study BPA during the past several years, but it has not been able to find a serious risk. Even as the agency issued its ban on BPA bottles and sippy cups, a representative explained to The New York Times: "based on all the evidence, we continue to support its [BPA's] safe use."
The ban came at the request of industry rather than to address health problems. The American Chemistry Council (ACC), explained in a press statement: "Although governments around the world continue to support the safety of BPA in food contact materials, confusion about whether BPA is used in baby bottles and sippy cups had become an unnecessary distraction to consumers, legislators and state regulators." Accordingly, the ACC supported a ban because it "provides certainty that BPA is not used to make the baby bottles and sippy cups on store shelves, either today or in the future."
But green groups use this industry driven-ban to advance a larger anti-BPA crusade. "This is only a baby step in the fight to eradicate BPA," says Sarah Janssen of the Natural Resources Defense Council in a press release. "To truly protect the public, FDA needs to ban BPA from all food packaging," she explains.
Janssen offers seriously bad advice because BPA resins control dangerous food-borne pathogens such as E. coli and botulism. And there are no good alternative products to replace BPA resins.
In fact, packaging manufactures have responded to the politically charged debate on BPA during the past several years by attempting to find alternatives -- without much success. One industry representative told The Washington Post, "We don't have a safe, effective alternative, and that's an unhappy place to be ... No one wants to talk about that." As a result, BPA resin bans may eventually translate into an increase in serious food-borne illnesses.
Still, some people argue that we should at least seek substitutes to "be on the safe side." They forget that every product of the market prevailed because it was the best to perform the job at an acceptable price at the time. Politically driven substitutes will always be second to the products that won in the marketplace. Thus, unless there is a verified and significant risk, banning products isn't a good idea.
Banning safe, useful products simply wastes investment that went into designing them, discourages innovators who fear similar repercussions, and diverts resources from useful enterprises into production of second, best substitutes. And for consumers, the result can be dangerous.