CONTRIBUTORS

BPA is safe in food contact materials

Posted Aug. 08, 2012, at 5:34 p.m.
Last modified Aug. 09, 2012, at 9:37 a.m.

The recent opinion piece by Dr. Laura Vandenberg (August 5) with its staggeringly one-sided presentation of “facts” represents all that is wrong with the debate over bisphenol A, or BPA.

Instead of an objective consideration of the science, Dr. Vandenberg distorts information about BPA. Dr. Vandenberg’s reference of the “Chapel Hill” study conducted five years ago, conveniently neglects to mention that, since that study in 2007, there have been more than a dozen comprehensive reviews by independent government scientists in Canada, Europe, Japan, Australia and the United States. Each one concluded the current uses of BPA in food contact materials are safe. Additionally, in 2010, the World Health Organization brought together a balanced group of experts who concluded regulatory action was not needed.

It is most unfortunate that Dr. Vandenberg repeats the fiction that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s safety assessment is based on two industry-funded studies, and that the FDA failed to evaluate the majority of studies that assert positive results. Fortunately for the state of public health in this country, FDA does not simply count positive and negative studies as if each were a vote.

FDA critically reviewed all available data on BPA and assessed the relevance to safety of each study separately. FDA used universally recognized scientific criteria, including reproducibility, statistical rigor, route of exposure, ability to assess dose response, and other factors involving proper experimental design.

FDA then based its safety decision on the best, most relevant data. If Dr. Vandenberg read the March 30, 2012, FDA response to the Natural Resources Defense Council petition, in which it communicated the results of its latest comprehensive review of BPA, she would know that FDA found the data considered and the resulting opinion from the “Chapel Hill” study insufficient to alter its conclusion that current uses of BPA in food contact material are safe. I suggest those with concerns regarding BPA’s use in food packaging read this and other publicly available FDA reviews for themselves.

Finally, Dr. Vandenberg incorrectly states the FDA recently changed its position on BPA’s safety because it removed the long-standing approval for the use of polycarbonate in baby bottles and other infant feeding articles. FDA’s action was not based on safety, but on a demonstration that the industry had abandoned these uses of polycarbonate. This fact is clearly stated in the documents announcing and completing FDA’s action.

Another fact conveniently missing from Dr. Vandeberg’s piece is that BPA-based epoxy coatings are critical in maintaining the sterility of food products. The coating allows for high-temperature sterilization of the food product when packaged and provides protection from defects forming in the container that would allow bacteria and microorganisms to enter.

According to FDA records, there has not been an incidence of foodborne illness resulting from a failure of metal packaging in more than 38 years.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that each year roughly one out of six Americans, or 48 million people, gets sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die from foodborne diseases. We cannot dismiss the essential role of epoxy resin coatings in protecting against these very real, costly and tragic results.

The level of obfuscation and outright false information in Dr. Vandenberg’s opinion piece is enough to question all of her assertions and any of her writings. Public health authorities such as the FDA, the European Food Safety Authority, Health Canada and national authorities in several European and Asian countries have all reviewed the safety of BPA. All of these comprehensive reviews conclude that BPA is safe in food contact uses and all are publicly available for those who are looking for objective science.

I urge the Maine Board of Environmental Protection to dismiss the hype and misinformation and consider the science objectively. I have every confidence that if the Maine Board of Environmental Protection does this, it will conclude that no regulatory action is needed regarding BPA.

Dr. Mitchell Cheeseman is a Managing Director at Steptoe & Johnson, LLP. He has 20 years of experience conducting and overseeing safety assessments at FDA and served for 13 years in a leadership capacity within FDA’s Foods Program.

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