Citing a lack of scientific data to support a change in policy, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has rejected a request to ban bisphenol A (BPA) from cans, bottles and other packaging. The FDA decision was made in response to a petition filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in 2008 which called for an end to the use of BPA – a chemical commonly used in the lining of cans and plastic bottles – in food and beverage-related products. The NRDC claims that BPA is a toxic chemical that presents a danger to pregnant women, babies and infants.
A settlement in a NRDC lawsuit filed against the FDA required the government agency to decide on the ban by March 31.
In a letter sent to the NRDC on Friday, David H. Horsey, an acting associate FDA commissioner, stated that “the information provided in your petition was not sufficient to persuade FDA, at this time, to initiate rulemaking to prohibit the use of BPA in human food and food packaging.”
BPA is often used in the lining of food and beverage containers in order to prevent the growth of germs and extend the shelf life of canned foods and beverages. Concerned about the adverse effects that BPA may have on children, some food and beverage suppliers have been begun to phase out liners that contain BPA, while others, including Coca-Cola, have rejected calls to end use of the chemical.
In its research on the chemical and its effect on humans, the FDA found that infants’ exposure to BPA is drastically less than previously estimated and the transfer of BPA from pregnant women to their fetuses is likely to be miniscule. Despite the ruling, the FDA cautioned that it has not declared BPA as safe. In conjunction with the National Institute of Environmental Health Science (NIEHS), the agency is in the midst of a $30 million research initiative to continue to assess the safety of the chemical.
“I cannot stress enough that this is not a final safety determination on BPA,” said FDA spokesman Douglas Karas. “This is a decision on the NRDC petition. The FDA denied the NRDC petition because it did not have the scientific data needed for the FDA to change current regulations, which allows the use of BPA in food packaging.”
The NRDC was unhappy with the FDA’s decision, and stated that the agency “made the wrong call.”
“The [FDA] has failed to protect our health and safety - in the face of scientific studies that continue to raise disturbing questions about the long-term effects of BPA exposures, especially in fetuses, babies and young children,” said NRDC scientist Sara Janssen.
Industry groups representing can manufacturers split with their glass bottle counterparts regarding the FDA’s decision not to ban BPA.
In a statement, the Can Manufacturer’s Institute said that, “By any measure, the FDA panel review was a comprehensive and exhaustive review of the existing, sound science and we believe they came to the proper, independent conclusion, devoid of the emotional rhetoric that has surrounded this issue for far too long.” The North American Metal Packaging Alliance called the FDA’s decision a “prudent course of action,” and noted that “a ban without conclusive scientific evidence of risk would compromise the safety of canned foods and beverages enjoyed by millions of Americans everyday.”
Lynn Bragg, the president of the Glass Packaging Institute, expressed concern over the FDA ruling and called glass bottles “the responsible choice for consumers to protect both their health and the environment.”
“When consumers eat foods or drink beverages in packaging that contain BPA, they may increase their exposure to a chemical that has prompted study and action,” Bragg said. “Glass is the optimal packaging choice because it preserves flavor while reducing these toxic health concerns.”