Bisphenol A (BPA): The Fuss Just Won't Go Away

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At current exposure levels, is BPA, the ubiquitous chemical found in plastic food packaging, toxic or not? The question turns out to be difficult to answer for two reasons: science and politics. Science does not have an easy way to determine the health effects of exposures to very low doses of chemicals, and the plastics industry does everything it can to minimize risks.

A recent study says that human exposure to BPA is much higher than previously estimated, not least because many of the sources of this estrogen-disrupting chemical have not yet been identified. The authors of the study, according to FoodQualityNews, want the chemical registered so that exposures can be assessed. They also call for immediate action to reduce exposures.

In contrast, FoodProductionDaily reports that the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has just ruled that current exposure levels are safe. Its expert panel reviewed hundreds of studies of BPA's effects over a six-month period. The committee could find no new evidence for setting a lower level for the Tolerable Daily Intake, now established at 0.05 mg/kg body weight. But at least one member of the committee disagreed and viewed the evidence as less certain. As FoodProductionDaily explains:

Bisphenol A is a chemical used as a monomer in polycarbonate plastic and epoxy resins—two food contact materials used in the manufacture of baby bottles and food and drink can linings respectively. Its continued use is a matter of fierce debate, with scientific evidence divided on the issue. In January 2010, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said the substance was safe at current exposure levels. It also recommended that children and pregnant women reduce their exposure to the substance and that industry should seek to develop BPA-free materials for use in food contact materials.

As might be expected, the plastics industry is delighted with the EFSA decision. FoodProductionDaily quotes a representative of the chemical industry:

Consumers around the world can be reassured that EFSA's intense scientific scrutiny continues to reaffirm the safety of BPA in food contact applications, and again concludes that established safe intake levels for BPA provide a sufficient margin of safety for protection of consumers, including for infants and young children.

Aren't you reassured by this?

Glass baby bottles, anyone?


This post also appears on foodpolitics.com.

Presented by

Marion Nestle is a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University. She is the author of Food Politics, Safe Food, What to Eat, and Pet Food Politics. More

Nestle also holds appointments as Professor of Sociology at NYU and Visiting Professor of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell. She is the author of three prize-winning books: Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health (revised edition, 2007), Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety (2003), and What to Eat (2006). Her most recent book is Feed Your Pet Right: The Authoritative Guide to Feeding Your Dog and Cat. She writes the Food Matters column for The San Francisco Chronicle and blogs almost daily at Food Politics.

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