FDA Punts On Banning Bisphenol A; NRDC is Outraged, But I Think They Got It Right

NRDC/Screen capture

Our friends at the NRDC are not happy with the FDA; Three years ago, they filed a petition asking the FDA to ban the use of Bisphenol A (BPA) in the food supply. Sarah Janssen writes that "Even then, we were confident that there was not enough evidence to conclude that BPA was a safe chemical and therefore should not be in our food supply."

In the years since, there has been a lot of additional evidence that BPA is problematic. Sarah writes:

In the case of BPA, there are strong and consistent connections between studies done in the laboratory in cells (in vitro), in laboratory animals (in vivo), and in primates, including humans. These lines of evidence raise deep concerns about exposures during vulnerable periods of development and long term health impacts.

Now the FDA has released its response, and Gina Solomon at the NRDC summarizes:

FDA is kicking the BPA-lined can further down the road in an announcement today that the Agency plans to keep studying this issue while consumers continue to be exposed. Specifically, the Agency's response to NRDC's petition is: "FDA has determined, as a matter of science and regulatory policy, that the best course of action at this time is to continue our review and study of emerging data on BPA."

Gina complains:

BPA is a known endocrine-disrupting chemical that was widely used in baby bottles, water bottles, infant formula containers, and in the lining of food cans. Today, many of these uses are essentially obsolete as manufacturers have moved to alternatives, but far too much BPA is still on the market and in products.

Note the use of the word "was". Whether it is legal or not, most users manufacturers of bottles and containers have voted with their wallets and dropped BPA polycarbonates. SIGG was destroyed for continuing to use it as a bottle liner. But Gina is right, there is still a lot of it out there, primarily in the epoxy liners of canned food. It is a difficult problem.

There is a reason Campbell's sells their more expensive organic or low salt stocks in tetrapaks. Emma Alter/CC BY 2.0

If Gina and the NRDC had provided a link to the FDA's response, which they did not, readers might learned that it's complicated. The FDA says flat out:

FDA shares the perspective of the National Toxicology Program that recent studies provide reason for some concern about the potential effects of BPA on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland of fetuses, infants and children….FDA is pursuing additional studies to address the uncertainties in the findings, seeking public input and input from other expert agencies, and supporting a shift to a more robust regulatory framework for oversight of BPA to be able to respond quickly, if necessary, to protect the public.

In addition, FDA is supporting reasonable steps to reduce human exposure to BPA, including actions by industry and recommendations to consumers on food preparation. At this time, FDA is not recommending that families change the use of infant formula or foods, as the benefit of a stable source of good nutrition outweighs the potential risk of BPA exposure.

The fact of the matter is, before BPA based epoxies were added, can corrosion was a major cause of deadly food poisoning. There is no perfect substitute for epoxy containing BPA yet, especially for acidic foods like tomatoes and highly sensitive things like baby food at this time. Even Eden foods, which has done more than just about anyone to eliminate BPA from their products, was unable to eliminate it completely. When we asked last year about the lids of their new glass packaging for tomatoes designed to reduce BPA, they responded (to their tremendous credit):

Currently, we are told, there is no known viable alternative to BPA based epoxy coatings that provides the same level of corrosion resistance and is as safe. We continually push our cap suppliers to develop BPA free constructed caps that will deliver required corrosion resistance, shelf life, and safety.

BPA is in your beer and soda pop

Test results from the Bureau of Chemical Safety Canada/Public Domain

But what also is missed constantly in this discussion is the fact that BPA epoxy liners are inside every can of pop and beer that you drink. We have discussed the link between obesity and BPA; this stuff shouldn't be there. But what happens when you take on the beer industry, Coke and Pepsi?

The issue of exposure to babies is perhaps the most important, and the FDA is taking baby steps.

FDA is supporting the industry’s actions to stop producing BPA-containing bottles and infant feeding cups for the U.S. market. FDA understands that the major manufacturers of these products have stopped selling new BPA-containing bottles and infant feeding cups for the U.S. market. Glass and polypropylene bottles and plastic disposable “bag” liners have long been alternatives to polycarbonate nursing bottles.

FDA is facilitating the development of alternatives to BPA for the linings of infant formula cans. FDA has already noted increased interest on the part of infant formula manufacturers to explore alternatives to BPA-containing can linings, and has received notifications for alternative packaging. The agency is supporting efforts to develop and use alternatives by (1) working with manufacturers regarding the regulatory status and safety of alternative liners; (2) giving technical assistance to those wishing to prepare applications for approval of alternatives; and (3) expeditiously reviewing any such new applications for alternatives. Because reliable can lining materials are a critical factor in ensuring the quality of heat processed liquid infant formula, safe replacement of such materials requires not only that they both be safe for food contact but also allow for processing that is fully functional in protecting the safety and quality of the infant formula itself.


Perhaps the FDA should have said "this stuff is banned as of 2015" to light a fire under the manufacturers. No doubt the American Chemistry Council and their congressional stooges would have fought them through the courts for years, claiming that the science isn't proven. Back at the NRDC, Sarah Janssen wrote:

We also expect FDA to fully evaluate any and all the replacements for BPA use in food containers. “BPA-free” does not necessarily mean it is safe.

BPA is in your canned beer. Bureau of Chemical Safety Food Directorate/Public Domain

Or cheap. And when you look at the beer and pop markets, fractions of pennies matter. Those numbers, in parts per billion, are incredibly small, but they are consistent and they are there. Ban BPA and the beer and pop industries have to find a new liner or get back that old metallic taste that it used to have. It isn't just about tomatoes and baby food but about Coke, Pepsi and Bud, whole industries.

It's time to stop buying stuff in cans.

That's why it is up to us to stop using canned goods whenever and wherever we can. To do what we did with baby bottles and Nalgene: vote with our wallets and make it essential that the manufacturers do everything they can to solve this. I suspect that the manufacturers are working day and night to find alternatives; they can read the studies too. But to give them a kick, that means, seriously, everything from baby food to soft drinks to beer. Right now, the alternative to BPA in cans is weaning ourselves off cans. If you care about BPA in your baby food, you have to care about it in your beer and your Coke, that is how it works.

What you can do

Don't use canned baby formula: All U.S. manufacturers use BPA-based lining on the metal portions of the formula containers. If you must use formula, choose powered or liquid in plastic bottles.

Don't eat canned food if you are pregnant. the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) says "We don't want to tell people not to eat canned beans or tomatoes," said CSPI nutritionist David Schardt. "But at the same time, it makes sense for all parents, and especially pregnant and nursing women, to minimize the exposure of their kids' developing bodies and brains to BPA."

Buy in bottles, not cans. Many products, like tomato sauces, are available in bottles as well as cans. Does that white epoxy on the inside of the metal lid have BPA? Probably, but there is a lot less surface area than the whole inside of a can.

Start cooking instead of just heating. The fact that 17% of the American diet comes out of cans is just a scandal when we are surrounded by fresh food. Cook it from scratch and avoid the problem altogether.

Take off, eh?/Promo image
Bottles are better.

And, stop buying canned pop and beer. Demand returnable bottles for both. This is, I think, the secret story about BPA, the quantities that go into the cans that we drink from in such quantities.

Some of the good old stuff on Bisphenol A in TreeHugger:
Fast Company on the Real Story Behind Bisphenol A
BPA Update: Canada Declares it Toxic, FDA Chair's Donor was Michigan's "First Polluter"
FDA Chair Studying BPA Took $5 Million Donation From BPA Supporter
Final Report on Bisphenol A: It May Harm Kids
FDA Says BPA Is Safe For Babies
Bisphenol A: How Wal-Mart Became the New FDA
Quotes of the Day: Opinions on the FDA Declaring BPA Safe
Don't Buy A Nalgene Water Bottle Until You Read This
Nalgene Dumps Bisphenol A Like Hot Potato :
Possible Effects of BPA
More Bad News About Bisphenol A: It Interferes with Chemotherapy Treatments
Yet Another Bisphenol A Pile-on: Linked to Heart Disease, Diabetes and Liver Problems
New Study: BPA May Make You Stupid and Depressed

Sources of BPA:

Bisphenol A Is In Your Tomato Sauce
Bisphenol A Could Be In Your Teeth
BPA Danger may be greater from Tin Cans than Water Bottles
Polycarbonate Water bottles
Canada Calls Bisphenol A "Dangerous"
Time to Pack In the Polycarbonates
Bottled Water - Lifting the Lid :
MEC Nixes Nalgenes

On Phthalates in TreeHugger:

Do Babies Exposed to Phthalates Have Smaller Penises?
Congress Will Do USEPA's Job: Reduce Childhood Exposure to Phthalates in Toys
Ask Treehugger: What Is An Endocrine Distruptor?
Are Boys Disappearing Because of Gender Bender Chemicals?

Tags: Bisphenol A | Chemicals | Toxins

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