Senate and House bills seek ban on use of bisphenol A

by Jay Sjerven
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WASHINGTON — Senators Dianne Feinstein of California and Charles Schumer of New York and Representative Edward Markey of Massachusetts in mid-March offered companion bills in the Senate and House of Representatives that would establish a federal ban on the chemical bisphenol A (B.P.A.) in all food and beverage containers.

B.P.A. is used in the manufacture of hardened plastics and a wide range of consumer goods, including the lining of metal cans, some baby bottle and sippy cups and reusable food and drink containers such as reusable sports water bottles. Concerns over potential adverse health effects of B.P.A. arose in recent years in the wake of studies on animals suggesting the chemical may result in reproductive and hormone-related problems.

The Ban Poisonous Additives Act of 2009 (S.593 in the Senate and H.R.1523 in the House) would require reusable food and beverage containers manufactured with B.P.A., including baby bottles and thermoses, not be sold. Also, containers manufactured with B.P.A. and used for other food products, such as canned foods or formula, would not be allowed in commerce.

The bills provide if a manufacturer may show there is no technology available to make a container for a particular food product or beverage without using B.P.A., the Food and Drug Administration would be authorized to issue renewable one-year waivers to the ban for such a container of the particular food or beverage. The food or beverage containers must be labeled to indicate B.P.A. was used in its manufacture, and the manufacturer must submit a plan and timeline for removing B.P.A. from the containers.

The bill also would require the F.D.A. to periodically review the list of substances deemed safe for manufacturing food and beverage containers to determine whether new scientific evidence exists indicating individual substances may pose adverse health risks.

The legislation would not preempt stronger state standards. The ban would take place 180 days from enactment.

"Evidence is mounting that exposure to this chemical is dangerous for developing children," Ms. Feinstein said. "Americans should not be used as guinea pigs by chemical companies while we wait, potentially for several years, for more scientific evidence to show this chemical is harmful to our health. The time has come to take action."

Mr. Markey pointed out manufacturers and retailers already have started to pull items from store shelves because of the concerns about B.P.A., and Mr. Schumer said, "It’s better to be safe than sorry."

The F.D.A. reaffirmed in February, "Based on all available evidence, the consensus of regulatory agencies in the U.S., Canada, Europe and Japan is that the current levels of exposure to B.P.A. through food packaging uses do not pose an immediate health risk to the general population, including infants and young children." The F.D.A. indicated it would continue to examine the research but stated to date it saw no significant risk.

Last year, Canadian health officials moved to ban from the market polycarbonate baby bottles that contain B.P.A. stating because safe alternatives to B.P.A. are readily available, the restriction was a prudent way to reduce risk to vulnerable infants.

The F.D.A. commented, "Health Canada’s Health Products and Food Branch has concluded that current dietary exposure to B.P.A. through food packaging uses is not expected to pose a health risk to the general population, including newborns and infants. However, using a precautionary approach, the government of Canada has taken steps to reduce exposure to B.P.A. for infants and young children."

Referring to Canada’s action, Ms. Feinstein said, "Our nation’s policies should be governed by the same approach. We need to do the utmost to protect vulnerable populations, especially children, from potentially toxic exposures of this chemical."

Meanwhile, industry was taking its own precautionary moves. Retailers such as Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. removed products containing B.P.A. from their shelves. In early March, six manufacturers (Avent, First Years, Gerber, Dr. Brown, Playtex and Evenflow) announced they would not use B.P.A. in baby bottles they sell in the United States.

Also, Sunoco, Inc., indicated effective November 2008 it stopped selling the chemical to any company that would not or could not promise it would prohibit B.P.A.’s use in containers of food products or beverages intended for children three years of age or younger.

In 2008, U.S. production of B.P.A. was an estimated 950,000 tonnes, according to Chemical Marketers Associates.

S.593 was referred to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, and H.R.1523 was referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

This article can also be found in the digital edition of Food Business News, March 31, 2009, starting on Page 16. Click here to search that archive.

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