The U.S. Food and Drug Administration shifted its position on bisphenol-A, expressing “some concern about the potential effects of BPA on the brain, behavior and prostate gland in fetuses, infants and young children.” BPA is an industrial chemical that has been present in many hard plastic bottles and metal-based food and beverage cans since the 1960s.
“We’re very encouraged that the FDA is joining other public health agencies in their concern for BPA in food,” said Sonya Lunder, senior analyst for the Washington, D.C.-based Environmental Working Group. She called the FDA’s update a “huge shift.”
Previously, the FDA had not recommended that people stop using products containing BPA. Now the FDA said it will take steps to reduce human exposure to BPA in the food supply, especially exposures through baby bottles, infant feeding cups and baby formula cans.
“Whether the shift will move from baby foods to other canned foods isn’t clear to me,” Lunder said.
The FDA stopped short of a BPA ban. “The FDA doesn’t have the full authority to regulate BPA in foods,” Lunder said. Because BPA food contact uses were approved more than 40 years ago, the regulatory structure limits the FDA’s oversight over BPA, according to a document called “Update on Bisphenol A for Use in Food Contact Applications,” which was released by the FDA on January 15. “If FDA were to decide to revoke one or more approved uses, FDA would need to undertake what could be a lengthy process of rulemaking to accomplish this goal,” the Update stated.
“This is the FDA’s best effort to make a bad situation as good as it can,” said Michael Potter, president of Eden Foods, based in Ann Arbor, Mich. All 33 Eden Organic Beans including Chili, Rice & Beans, Refried, and Flavored, come in BPA-free cans, according to the company website.
“At this point, there seems to be an indirect pressure on industry to find something new [to replace BPA],” said Lunder, who explained that because the FDA is powerless to regulate BPA, the agency is leaning on the food industry to self-regulate. “It’s not the most efficient way to protect public health.”
Potter thought a better approach would be for the FDA to exercise more caution before substance approval. “[The FDA update] is a white wash of a lot of science that shows that BPA is not a chemical we want in our food supply,” Potter said. “I wish the FDA would take a more precautionary approach and less of a reactionary approach.”
In the FDA's BPA update, the agency said it is supporting a more robust framework for oversight of BPA and is seeking further public comment on the science surrounding BPA.