The US FDA is reconsidering its stance on the safety of controversial chemical, bisphenol A

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is revisiting its stance that bisphenol A (BPA) is safe at current exposure levels. The FDA’s chief scientist, Jesse Goodman, will be in charge of an effort to re-examine the controversial issue from a scientific and policy position. 

Goodman will review data and talk to experts inside and outside of the federal government as part of the investigation, according to the FDA. The agency anticipates that the review will be completed in ’weeks not months’. 

The FDA says it is aware of concerns that BPA is an endocrine disruptor, and that there is evidence of human exposure to the chemical through food packaging. The chemical mimics oestrogen and is commonly found in baby bottles, children’s cups and formula cans.

The FDA has been conflicted about BPA for some time, changing its view on the adequacy of safety margins for the chemical several times over the last year.

The great void

A lack of information and unified advice from the agency on BPA over recent months has created something of a vacuum. In that void, some US states and localities have implemented restrictions independently. Some food packaging and baby bottle makers have also removed BPA from their products.

The news that the FDA is reconsidering its stance on BPA came following a letter to the FDA’s new administrator, Peggy Hamburg, from two lawmakers on the House of Representatives’ influential Energy and Commerce Committee, requesting that she promptly re-evaluate the chemical’s safety. The congressmen - Democrats Henry Waxman and Bart Stupak - also expressed concern that the previous FDA leadership relied too heavily on private industry in forming its opinion that BPA was safe. 

’News of an industry meeting last week to discuss ways to block restrictions on BPA suggest industry has little interest in scientific facts or the public health,’ Stupak said in a 2 June statement. ’The FDA’s reliance on industry studies in determining BPA’s safety must be re-evaluated in light of clear signs industry is willing to mislead the American people on this public health issue.’

Industry influence

That same day, Waxman and Stupak sent a separate letter to the North American Packaging Alliance (NAMPA), which represents the food and beverage packaging industry, regarding media reports that the group may use ’fear tactics’ in its public relations strategy to counter efforts to regulate BPA.

The lawmakers asked NAMPA to submit all documents and names of participants involved in BPA strategy meetings held over the past two months. The trade group welcomed the congressional enquiry but nevertheless reacted defensively. 

’This review process in the international realm has led to the conclusion, time and again, that BPA does not pose a risk for human health at the existing levels in food and beverage packaging applications,’ the organisation responded in a 3 June statement. ’The simple fact is there is no readily available, suitable alternative to BPA-based can coatings that meets the essential safety and performance requirements for the broadest spectrum of foods now packaged in metal and glass containers.’ 

The American Chemistry Council (ACC), a trade association for US chemical companies, said it welcomed the congressional pressure, saying it would lead to ’timely decisions, based on science’. However, the group also emphasised that the science around BPA had been extensively reviewed within the last year by the European Union, European Food Safety Authority, German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment, Danish Environmental Protection Agency, French Food Safety Authority, Swiss Office for Public Health, and others. These entities have ’uniformly concluded that BPA is safe in food-contact products,’ ACC says.

Rebecca Trager, US correspondent for Research Europe