Is BPA still a bad word?

The continuing controversy over bisphenol A — better known as BPA — took an interesting turn on December 5, 2014, when the FDA announced that BPA is safe at the current levels that occur in foods due to their packaging. This announcement follows the completion of a four-year review of more than 300 scientific studies by FDA experts specializing in toxicology, analytical chemistry, endocrinology, epidemiology, and other fields.

Consumer and environmental groups have been critical of BPA use in food containers for years. Twelve states and the FDA have banned BPA use in baby bottles and “sippy” cups, and the FDA banned the use of BPA for infant formula packaging in 2013. The European Commission plans to ban BPA use in children’s toys (in contrast  to the European Food Safety Authority’s January 2014 conclusion that BPA poses a low health risk to consumers with moderate intake levels). In addition to government involvement, several retailers and manufacturers have also joined the anti-BPA movement by refusing to sell young children’s food in containers with BPA.

On the legislative front, the inflammatorily named “Ban Poisonous Additives Act of 2014” prohibits the distribution of a food if its container is composed of BPA. This bill, H.R. 5033, was sponsored by Lois Capps (Democrat) of California in July 2014, has 22 co-sponsors, and was referred to the Subcommittee on Health in July 2014. The bill has a provision that allows the FDA to grant a manufacturer a year waiver to find alternate packaging, but the current packaging would have to be labeled as containing BPA.

BPA is an industrial chemical used to make polycarbonate, which is a hard, clear plastic that is used in many consumer products. BPA is a structural component in polycarbonate beverage bottles as well as a component in metal can coatings that serves to protect the food from directly contacting metal surfaces. BPA has been used in food packaging since the 1960s.

Studies by the FDA have found evidence in rodent studies that the level of the active form of BPA passed from expectant mothers to their unborn offspring was so low that it could not be measured (pregnant rodents were orally dosed with 100-1000 times more BPA than people are exposed to through food); oral BPA administration results in rapid metabolism of BPA to an inactive form; oral BPA administration results in a much lower internal exposure of the active form of BPA than what occurs from other routes of exposure, such as injection; and primates (including humans) of all ages effectively metabolize and excrete BPA much more rapidly and efficiently than rodents.

While scientific studies continue to find BPA is not as harmful, if at all, as once “believed,” manufacturers should still be aware of the publicity that BPA use generates. This public sentiment continues to prompt legislators to take action to curb BPA usage, despite the FDA’s recent statement that BPA is safe in food packaging. In light of this, if BPA is used in products, manufacturers should make and retain complete records detailing their reasoning for BPA use instead of other substitutes in order to demonstrate the defensibility of their actions in any subsequent product liability lawsuit that might arise.

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