April 2, 2012 | Latest News

FDA Denies Bisphenol A Petition

Regulation: Agency finds insufficient data to ban controversial chemical in food packaging
By Britt E. Erickson
Department: Government & Policy
Keywords: bisphenol A, food safety, FDA, endocrine disrupter

The Food & Drug Administration has rejected a petition from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) to ban bisphenol A (BPA) in food packaging. The advocacy group filed the petition in October 2008, claiming that exposure to BPA can cause endocrine-disrupting health effects in humans, especially infants and children.

FDA was not persuaded by the evidence provided in NRDC’s petition. “The best course of action at this time is to continue our review and study of emerging data on BPA,” David H. Dorsey, acting associate commissioner for policy and planning at FDA, wrote in a March 30 denial letter to NRDC. “FDA is performing, monitoring, and reviewing new studies and data as they become available, and depending on the results, any of these studies or data could influence FDA’s assessment and future regulatory decisions about BPA,” he stated.

BPA has been under intense scrutiny for many years because it mimics estrogen and has been linked to cancer and obesity in humans. Although government agencies around the world have declared BPA safe in food packaging, consumer pressure has persuaded manufacturers to seek alternatives.

“Over the last three years, the industry has been working very hard to look for alternative technologies to BPA-based can coatings,” says John M. Rost, chairman of the North American Metal Packaging Alliance, an industry group. The effort has been driven by customer requests for alternatives, not scientific safety concerns, he stresses.

So far, such alternatives have been successful only for limited applications. For the majority of packaged foods, the alternatives don’t have the performance characteristics of BPA-based epoxy resins, Rost says.

It would be difficult to implement a ban on BPA in food packaging today because “FDA hasn’t authorized a broad-based alternative material, one that can address the range of food applications that are currently handled by BPA epoxies,” says Mitchell Cheeseman, managing director in environmental and health sciences at the law firm Steptoe & Johnson and former acting director of FDA’s Office of Food Additive Safety.

FDA’s rejection of the petition won’t be its final word on BPA. Last month, Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) filed three different petitions urging FDA to ban BPA in food packaging (C&EN, March 26, page 36). The American Chemistry Council, an industry trade group, has also petitioned FDA to ban BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups because manufacturers are no longer using BPA in those products.

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