On March 31, the FDA responded to the highly publicized petition by the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC) to ban bisphenol A (BPA) in all food packaging applications in the U.S. FDA resoundingly rejected NRDC's request in a 15-page response, reiterating that BPA, at current levels of exposure, is safe for use in food contact applications.
FDA's announcement is a welcome development that reinforces the public trust in the agency's commitment to protecting public health by putting sound science above political pressure. Not surprisingly, NRDC did not share this opinion, favoring instead to go on the offensive calling FDA "out-of-step with scientific and medical research."
This begs an important question: With the weight of so much research and evidence supporting BPA's safety, who is it that really is out of touch on the science?
The reasoning behind FDA's decision is consistent with international regulatory reviews of BPA by scientists and governments across the world. It echoed similar findings from the World Health Organization, the European Food Safety Authority, Health Canada and the Japanese Research Institute of Science for Safety and Sustainability, as well as regulatory agencies in the United Kingdom, Germany, Australia and New Zealand.
Time and again, when a comprehensive body of research on BPA is evaluated by unbiased scientific experts, the conclusion is the same: BPA-based coatings, when used in food packaging, do not pose a health risk to the general population, including infants and young children.
The basis for this consistency revolves around how people are exposed to BPA and how the human body metabolizes it. Much of the NRDC's claim that BPA is dangerous is based on research that relied on the direct injection of BPA into the blood streams of test animals. These studies, while offering interesting data, are not considered relevant for purposes of assessing human risk.
Humans are not exposed to BPA through injection; indeed, a person's exposure to BPA is primarily from ingestion as a result of their diet. When ingested, BPA is rapidly metabolized and eliminated from the body in the urine. The metabolite of BPA has no known biological activity and cannot cause any adverse effects.
New research is making an even stronger case for the safety of BPA in food packaging. A landmark study sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is showing that when human subjects are fed a diet high in BPA, the unmetabolized BPA cannot be measured in the blood of the test subjects.
Today, the science surrounding BPA exposure is much clearer than in 2008 when NRDC first filed its petition. The weight of the scientific research on BPA continues to support the safety of BPA at the extremely low levels that people are exposed to on a daily basis.
It is an inescapable fact that any material that comes into contact with food will migrate into that food in small amounts. But we must keep in mind the very, very low levels of migration that occur with BPA and compare that to regulatory limits. Health Canada has pointed out that an average adult would have to eat food from several hundred cans each day to meet the intake limit of BPA established by the Canadian government.
We should also consider that BPA is the only food packaging material of its kind to have been the subject of decades of unprecedented, rigorous scientific study.
We must remain mindful that metal packaging with BPA-based can liners can boast a unique and unprecedented safety record against the real dangers of food poisoning. According to FDA's own records, there has not been a single case of food-borne illness resulting from the failure of metal packaging in more than 37 years, coincidentally lining up with the widespread use of BPA as the industry standard for can coatings in metal food packaging. This safety record is hugely important when you consider that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that each year roughly one out of six Americans (or 48 million people) get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die from food-borne diseases.
So when you step back to look at the bigger picture, perhaps the question you should be asking is: When is NRDC's science going to catch up with the rest of the world?