Currently browsing posts about: BPA(Bisphenol-A)

Jan 18 2010

The FDA’s BPA “concerns” get a response

The FDA’s recently stated concerns about the health effects of bisphenol A did not go unnoticed.

The European Food Safety Authority is keeping a close eye on the FDA action because the two agencies have an agreement to cooperate.   But the U.K.’s Food Standards Agency continues to maintain that BPA is safe at current levels of exposure:

a 3-month-old bottle-fed baby weighing around 6 kg would need to consume more than four times the usual number of bottles of baby formula a day before it would reach the tolerable daily intake set by EFSA in 2006.

It is amusing to read the predictable responses of stakeholders who have a vested interest in demonstrating that BPA is safe – the chemical, plastics, and grocery manufacturers, for example.   In contrast, the Environmental Working Group said that the reversal of the FDA’s position is likely to be:

the Waterloo [that ends] nearly a decade of agency collusion with BPA manufacturers… It represents a victory for parents and children, and validation of the hundreds of independent studies linking BPA to numerous and serious health problems.

How harmful is BPA?  I have no idea.  I wish the FDA would release its review of the research.  But even without it there is now enough evidence questioning the safety of BPA to invoke the “precautionary principle:” don’t use it until it is proven safe.

Are BPA plastics essential in our food supply?  Clearly not.

Jan 16 2010

FDA to reevaluate Bisphenol A (BPA)

The FDA now says it has concerns about BPA and intends to join other federal agencies in a review of the chemical’s safety.   As readers of this blog may recall from previous posts, the FDA has a long-awaited report on BPA sitting in a drawer someplace.  The report was due at the end of November.  Now we can guess the reason for the delay.  The report must have given BPA a pass even though studies seem to be coming in daily suggesting harm.  BPA may not be immediately deadly, but it does not seem good for human health.

The most recent study, this one  from England, looked at dietary intake data in the U.S.   It concluded that BPA is a risk factor for heart disease.  The industry, of course, disagrees.  They think the British study isn’t scientific enough.

Faced with increasing evidence of harm, the FDA is doing the right thing to take this one on.  The problem will be getting rid of BPA.  We can all do our part by avoiding hard plastic bottles, but what about the linings of canned foods?  The canning industry says it doesn’t have a safe substitute.  Until they find one, you will have to add canned foods to the list of foods to avoid.

Jan 1 2010

What’s up with food and nutrition in 2010?

My San Francisco Chronicle column, now appearing in print on the first Sunday of the month, is also online.

Its title:  “Hot food issues ready to boil over this year.”

Q: What do you think will happen with food and nutrition in 2010?

A: I wish I could read the leaves while I drink tea, but the best I can do is tell you which issues I’m going to be watching closely this year.

Hunter Public Relations recently asked 1,000 Americans which food-related issues they thought were most important in 2009. The top three? Food safety, hunger and food prices. For the decade, the winner was childhood obesity.

I have my own top 10 list of hot-button issues for 2010, and here they are:

  • Hunger: More than 35 million Americans get benefits to which they are entitled under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly, food stamps). The economy may be improving, but not quickly enough for millions who have lost jobs, health care and housing. Will Congress do anything this year to strengthen the safety net for the poor? It needs to.
  • Childhood obesity: Rates of childhood obesity may have stabilized, but we all want to figure out how to prevent kids from gaining so much weight that they develop adult chronic diseases. I expect to see more efforts to improve school food and make neighborhoods more conducive to walking to school, riding bikes and playing outside.
  • Food safety regulation: Congress is sitting on a bill to give the Food and Drug Administration some real authority for food safety. The bill does not do what is most needed – establish a single food-safety agency – but is a reasonable step in the right direction. Let’s hope Congress gets to it soon.
  • Food advertising and labels: The long-dormant FDA and Federal Trade Commission are getting busy at last. In the wake of the Smart Choices fiasco, the FDA is working to make package labels less misleading and easier to understand. The agencies have proposed nutrition standards for products marketed to children. These voluntary standards fall far short of my preference – an outright ban on marketing junk foods to kids – but puts food companies on notice that their products are under scrutiny. The FDA is also working on designs for front-of-package labels. I’m hoping it chooses a “traffic-light” system that marks foods with a green (any time), yellow (sometimes) or red (hardly ever) dot. Expect plenty of opposition from the makers of red-dotted products.
  • Meat: The meat industry has been under fire for raising food animals under inhumane conditions, using unnecessary hormones and antibiotics, mistreating immigrant labor, and polluting soil and water. Now it is also under fire for contributing to climate change. Recent films like “Food, Inc.” and “Fresh” and books such as Jonathan Safran Foer’s “Eating Animals” are encouraging people to become vegetarians or to eat less meat to promote the health of people and the planet. I’ll bet the meat industry pushes back hard on this one.
  • Sustainable agriculture: The back-to-the land movement has loads of people buying local food, choosing foods produced under more sustainable conditions and growing their own food. The number of small farms in America increased last year for the first time in a century. Seed companies cannot keep up with the demand. It will be fun to follow what happens with this trend.
  • Genetically modified (GM) foods: My book, “Safe Food,” comes out in a new edition this year, so I am paying especially close attention to debates about GM foods. The FDA’s 1994 decision to prohibit labeling of GM foods continues to haunt the food biotechnology industry. By now, nearly all American soybeans and sugar beets (95 percent) are GM, as is most corn (60 percent). But when the U.S. Department of Agriculture approved GM sugar beets in 2005, it neglected to perform the required environmental impact assessment. On that basis, environmental groups want to ban further planting of GM sugar beets. The dispute is now in the courts.
  • Chemical contaminants: The FDA has yet to release its report on the safety of bisphenol A, the plastic chemical that acts as an endocrine disrupter. Shouldn’t it be banned? The bottling industry says no. Watch for fierce arguments over this one.
  • Salt: Nutrition standards allow 480 mg sodium (the equivalent of more than 1 gram of salt) per serving. A half cup of canned soup provides that much. A whole cup gives you 4 grams and the whole can gives you 8 grams – much more than anyone needs. Nearly 80 percent of salt in American diets comes from processed and restaurant foods. Companies are under pressure to cut down on salt. Will they? Only if they have to.
  • Dietary advice: The new edition of Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which the government publishes every five years, is due this year. What will it say? I can’t wait to find out.

Those are the issues I am tracking these days. My one crystal-ball prediction? We will be hearing a lot more about them this year.

Happy new year!

Dec 16 2009

The ongoing Bisphenol A saga: more updates

Ordinarily, concerns about leaching plastics are way down on my list of food safety worries (bacteria are #1), but the evidence against bisphenol A (BPA) continues to pile up.  The latest report says that BPA adversely affects the immunity of the digestive system and causes inflammation.  This, among other considerations, has led the National Institute of Environmental Sciences to invest $30 million to study it.

These and other concerns about its safety hazards have the plastics industry and its users in a tizzy and must also be paralyzing food safety regulators .  The FDA has postponed the release of its report on the safety of BPA.  The report was due out at the end of November but the FDA is not saying when it will be published.  The FDA just says the report is coming soon.  That’s not good enough, say critics who say that the delay is raising questions about the FDA’s credibility.

While all this is happening, United Nations’ agencies are planning a summit on BPS safety to be held in Canada in – don’t hold your breath – October 2010.

What to do?  Avoidance seems prudent.  BPA turns up in plastics coded with numbers 7 (the catchall category) and, sometimes, 3.  Can’t keep the numbers straight?  Try glass?

Nov 15 2009

Bisphenol A: And now, erectile disfunction!

The newspapers and the Internet are full of reports that men exposed to bisphenol A (BPA) have higher levels of erectile disfunction.  Before going into a panic, take a look at the study details.   This one was a survey of factory workers in China exposed to exceptionally high levels of this endocrine-disrupting chemical.

What does the study mean for men exposed to much lower levels?  We don’t have a clue.  But we’ve heard plenty of unsettling things about BPA (see previous posts), including accounts by Jill Richardson and others of the extraordinary efforts of industry lobbyists to prevent officials from banning BPA. This new research suggests that a ban is a pretty good idea, even if most people are not harmed by small amounts.

Reasons?

  • BPA is not essential in the human diet.
  • It is an unnecessary contaminant.
  • Small amounts of harmful chemicals can accumulate in the body.
  • We have no idea what the threshold for harm might be.
  • Removing it from the food and water supply is not all that difficult.

In sum, everyone except makers of BPA plastics can do just fine without it.  I’m stuck; I can’t think of a single reason not to ban it.

Update, November 20: According to reports, NY Senator Charles Schumer has introduced a bill to ban BPA.  The headline of this account says “tabled.”  I think it means “introduced”?

Nov 3 2009

Oh no! Bisphenol A again

Here’s a good reason why food manufacturers don’t want to test for harmful chemicals.  If you test, you might find something you don’t want to.

Consumer Reports did just that.  It tested a bunch of canned juices, soups, tuna, and green beans and found bisphenol A (BPA) in almost all of them — even the ones labeled organic or bisphenol A-free.

BPA, you may recall, is a chemical in polycarbonate plastics that acts as an endocrine disruptor.  How harmful is it?  Debate rages.  These new data will add to the debate.

CR says it found the highest levels of BPA in some samples of canned green beans and canned soups:

• Canned Del Monte Fresh Cut Green Beans Blue Lake had the highest amount of BPA for a single sample in Consumer Reports tests, with levels ranging from 35.9 parts per billon (ppb) to 191 ppb. Progresso Vegetable Soup BPA levels ranged from 67 to 134 ppb. Campbell’s Condensed Chicken Noodle Soup had BPA levels ranging from 54.5 to 102 ppb.

• Average amounts in tested products varied widely. In most items tested, such as canned corn, chili, tomato sauce, and corned beef, BPA levels ranged from trace amounts to about 32 ppb.

Because it was particularly concerned about BPA exposure for infants and young children, it tested samples of infant formula and apple juice.  It found:

• Similac liquid concentrate in a can averaged 9 ppb of BPA, but there was no measurable level in the powdered version.

• Nestlé Juicy Juice in a can averaged 9.7 ppb of BPA, but there were no measurable levels in the samples of the same product packaged in juice boxes.

Although the BPA in Nestlé Juicy Juice averaged 9 ppb, this was not so high, but children consume a lot of juice so this levels worries the testers.

While waiting for the experts to decide just how bad a problem BPA might be for adults and children, Consumer Reports recommends reducing the risk:

* Choose fresh food whenever possible.

* Consider alternatives to canned food, beverages, juices, and infant formula.

* Use glass containers when heating food in microwave ovens.

I would add to this: urge the FDA to finish up its scientific review right away.  It would be good to know more about just how harmful BPA is, and at what levels.

Update, November 4: I love the industry response to this report: “The use of bisphenol A (BPA) in can linings is both safe and vital for food protection.”

Update, November 9: Thanks to Jill Richardson of La Vida Locavore for telling me about her investigations into lobbying against restrictions on BPA (she also posted a summary as a comment here, but her site gives many more of the political details).  The plastics and related industries must be really worried.  They have reason to be worried.  There hasn’t been much reassuring news about BPA recently.

Aug 27 2009

Hormones in the food supply

The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) in Minneapolis has a new report out that summarizes research on hormones in the food supply, of which there are many: arsenic growth promoters, recombinant bovine growth hormone, synthetic hormones in packaging (plasticizers, bisphenol A), and industrial contaminants (dioxins, PCBs, etc).  Never has the statement “more research needed” made more sense.  Plenty of uncertainties still remain about how much, if any, harm is caused by these substances, but while waiting for that research, IATP advises: avoid.  How?  Eat low-fat meat and dairy foods (these chemicals are stored in fatty tissues) and organics (these should be free of hormone-like substances or have much less), don’t use plastic containers made with bisphenol A, and get busy on changing policy!

Jul 17 2009

Regulation of bottled water: oops

There is so much wrong with bottled water that it’s hard to know where to begin (read Elizabeth Royte’s Bottlemania, for starters).  But let’s start with the fact that bottled water is the most brilliantly marketed product ever invented.  The companies get it practically free out of a tap and charge you a dollar or more – sometimes a lot more – for a quart or less).  The plastic bottles pollute the environment.  Worst of all, drinking bottled water makes people less apt to be vigilant about protecting public water supplies.

And it isn’t even regulated very well, or so says a report from the Government Accountability Office.  The title says it all: “Bottled water: FDA safety and consumer protections are often less stringent than comparable EPA protections for tap water.”  The report was released in time for congressional hearings on the topic.   Reporters had a lot of fun with the self-interested statements of industry people who testified.

None of this gets into the additional question of bisphenol A and other endocrine disrupters in plastic bottles that are sometimes used for water.  The Canadians are now saying that bisphenol A is safe at amounts commonly used, and so is a California expert committee.  The American Chemistry Council is pleased with these decisions.

Where does that leave us?  Defend tap water!  As for endocrine disrupters, stay tuned but why use bisphenol A when other alternatives are so readily available.

July 24 update: The International Bottled Water Association is suing a maker of steel water bottles for false advertising.  The bottle maker’s ads apparently suggested that plastic water bottles leak synthetic estrogens.   Bisphenol A must be causing serious problems for the bottled water industry, along with all those pesky enviromental concerns.

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