Debate intensifies over effort to ban controversial chemical found in baby food

Seven-month-old Noorah Abdelmageed of Bangor chews on the corner of a sign held by her mother; Heather van Frankenhuyzen, owner of the Bella Luna women's clothing shop in downtown Bangor, during a 2009 protest on Union Street in Bangor of businesses selling products containing bisphenol-A, or BPA.
Seven-month-old Noorah Abdelmageed of Bangor chews on the corner of a sign held by her mother; Heather van Frankenhuyzen, owner of the Bella Luna women's clothing shop in downtown Bangor, during a 2009 protest on Union Street in Bangor of businesses selling products containing bisphenol-A, or BPA. Buy Photo
Posted Feb. 14, 2012, at 8:31 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The debate over the chemical bisphenol-A continued Tuesday as groups released competing claims about the additive’s health effects, and one baby food manufacturer insisted its products are BPA-free.

During a press event at the State House, members of the Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Maine as well as Mainely Moms and Dads formally announced plans to petition the Board of Environmental Protection to ban BPA in containers of infant formula and baby or toddler food. Maine banned BPA in reusable beverage containers sold in the state starting Jan. 1.

Some medical studies have suggested links between BPA and learning disabilities, reproductive problems, cancer and obesity, although manufacturers and the chemical industry insist the additive is safe.

“Every time I use the can opener or pop open a jar of baby food or pasta sauce I’m serving up a dose of BPA to my family,” Erica Harris, a mother of two from Gray, said in a statement. “We need to get BPA out of all food packaging to keep our food from being contaminated with this unwanted poison.”

The Environmental Health Strategy Center also released the results of tests they said found BPA in 11 of 12 containers of baby food from Maine that were tested as well as in all three cans of canned food marketed to children.

But the popular baby food manufacturer Beech-Nut, which was one of two companies accused by the center of failing to report the use of BPA, refuted those claims Tuesday and insisted the additive is no longer used in its packaging.

“Nothing is more important to Beech-Nut than the quality and safety of our products,” Beech-Nut said in a statement sent to the Bangor Daily News. “Since October 2011, all Beech-Nut baby and toddler food packaging has been produced without BPA-containing material. This was communicated by Beech-Nut to Maine state officials in November 2011. Reports stating otherwise are incorrect.”

Samantha DePoy-Warren, spokeswoman for the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, said Beech-Nut had sent a letter to the DEP saying their food does not contain “intentionally added” BPA. But Maine’s law requires reporting if the product packaging contains BPA, which can then leach into food. So department staff have prepared a “letter of warning” saying they need additional information from Beech-Nut.

“We need clarification that their food packaging does not contain BPA,” DePoy-Warren said.

The Maine Chamber of Commerce, meanwhile, joined the debate by accusing the Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Maine of making “misleading accusations” about a chemical that some governmental organizations have deemed to be safe.

“The Department of Environmental Protection is currently on the right course to make sure that Maine is both a healthy and a prosperous place to live,” Ben Gilman, senior governmental affairs specialist with the state chamber, said in a statement. “Instead of being pressured into following agenda that is not supported by the facts, we believe the department should stay focused on making the improvements to the Kids-Safe Products Act that won bipartisan support from the Legislature last year and included input from industry and the environmental community.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is facing a March 31 deadline to decide whether to ban BPA due to health concerns, under a recent court settlement between the agency and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Other governmental agencies have offered mixed views on BPA.

The National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have said they have “some concern” about BPA’s effects on fetuses, children and infants at current exposure levels through food and the environment but that more research is needed.

The European Food Safety Authority, meanwhile, has deemed as safe the level of exposure to BPA encountered through food. And the World Health Organization has said enacting regulatory restrictions on the chemical would be premature at this point.

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