Is plastic food packaging safe or dangerous? Will the federal government ever decide and act to protect us properly?
By Dean I Weitzman, Esq. on January 20th, 2010
It’s not enough that we have to worry about the safety of the vehicles we drive in, the airplanes we fly in and even the toys our children play with.
Now, in a story in The New York Times last week, we are reminded to always be concerned about the packaging used for the food and drinks that we consume each day.
Less than two years ago, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration declared that the chemical bisphenol-A (BPA), which is a key ingredient in food packaging including some plastic bottles, was safe for use by humans. Now, according to the Times story, the FDA is “expressing concerns about possible health risks from bisphenol-A.”
Can’t a government agency make up its mind on a topic that is so important to consumers and parents?
“Studies employing standardized toxicity tests have thus far supported the safety of current low levels of human exposure to BPA,” the FDA reported this month on its Web site. “However, on the basis of results from recent studies using novel approaches to test for subtle effects, both the National Toxicology Program at the National Institutes of Health and FDA have some concern about the potential effects of BPA on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants, and young children. In cooperation with the National Toxicology Program, FDA’s National Center for Toxicological Research is carrying out in-depth studies to answer key questions and clarify uncertainties about the risks of BPA.”
Well that’s just great. Tell us less than two years ago that we have nothing to worry about, let us all drink and eat from plastic packaging that whole time, and then tell us that “oops, maybe that wasn’t such a great idea.”
So what is BPA?
“BPA is an industrial chemical used to make a hard, clear plastic known as polycarbonate, which has been used in many consumer products, including reusable water bottles and baby bottles,” according to the FDA’s Web site. “BPA is also found in epoxy resins, which act as a protective lining on the inside of metal-based food and beverage cans. These uses of BPA are subject to premarket approval by FDA as indirect food additives or food contact substances. The original approvals were issued under FDA’s food additive regulations and date from the 1960s.”
Until now, the FDA said, studies so far “have supported the safety of current low levels of human exposure to BPA,” based on past sampling and monitoring.” But a new review that was begun in September 2008 revealed new concerns, according to the agency.
In the meantime, the agency is continuing its studies and has also issued some “interim public health recommendations” on BPA exposure. The FDA says it “supports reasonable steps to reduce exposure of infants to BPA in the food supply. In addition, FDA will work with industry to support and evaluate manufacturing practices and alternative substances that could reduce exposure to other populations.”
The good news is that some major manufacturers of food and drink packaging “have stopped selling new [containers, including infant feeding cups for the U.S. market, that use] BPA,” according to the FDA.
And not all plastic bottle contain BPA in the first place. “Glass and polypropylene bottles and plastic disposable ‘bag’ liners have long been alternatives to polycarbonate nursing bottles,” the FDA reports.
But at the same time, the FDA states, “given that these are preliminary steps being taken as a precaution, it is important that no harmful changes be made in food packaging or consumption, whether by industry or consumers, that could jeopardize either food safety or reduce access to and intake of food needed to provide good nutrition, particularly for infants.”
Thanks for the confusing advice.
“If we thought it was unsafe, we would be taking strong regulatory action,” Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, the principal deputy commissioner of the drug agency, the Times reported.
Well, that makes us feel a whole lot better.
More BPA studies are coming, including a $30 million study by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.
Now all we have to do is wait and worry.
What we really need is real answers from our health officials and government. If BPA is hazardous, and it appears to have concerned some scientists, then it should be banned and no longer used in food packaging.
These lingering questions need to be answered, and soon.