As state officials decide whether to extend the ban of bisphenol A, known as BPA, to food packaging for babies and toddlers, they should keep in mind that the debate is not as polemical as some may make it out to be. That’s because Maine consumers and stores have largely demonstrated through their purchasing power their preference for BPA-free products.
Action already taken in Maine and around the world appears to be building up to an extension of the ban. The Maine’s Kids Safe Products Act passed in 2008 and required baby bottles and drinking cups to be BPA free. Manufacturers across the country stopped using the chemical due to safety concerns, and stores started adopting policies to not sell products with BPA. Walmart made a high-profile decision in 2008 to halt the sale of baby bottles, sippy cups, pacifiers, food containers and water bottles made with BPA.
The Board of Environmental Protection, a group of seven people appointed by the governor, will gather this fall to decide whether to limit children’s exposure to the chemical by extending the BPA ban to packaging used for baby and toddler food. BPA is used to produce some of the epoxies that line cans, such as those for infant formula and baby food, and it can seep into the meal.
It would have been more controversial for the state board to have extended the ban several years ago. As publicity has increased, many consumers have stopped purchasing products that could contain BPA. Food manufacturers Nestle, Heinz and General Mills are removing the chemical from packaging. Campbell Soups is removing it from its canned food products.
There are BPA alternatives for manufacturers. And chemicals producers do not stand to see dramatic losses. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that less than 5 percent of BPA produced is used for items that come into contact with food.
There is wide local support for the extension of the ban, indicated by the petition organized by a group of mothers and signed by more than 800 Mainers to phase out the use of BPA in the packaging of foods intentionally marketed to children under the age of three.
And backing for a federal reform law to update the Toxic Substances Control Act may be growing. U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe recently announced her support for the Safe Chemicals Act, which would require chemical companies to submit data to the EPA about each chemical they produce and the EPA to prioritize the chemicals based on their risks.
More studies are needed to determine the full effects of BPA, but both the National Toxicology Program at the National Institutes of Health and the FDA have some concern about how it affects the brain, behavior and prostate gland of fetuses, infants and young children.
The FDA has not banned BPA from packaging, but it is facilitating the development of alternatives to BPA for the linings of infant formula cans and other food can linings. We’d also like to see follow-up tests conducted to show whether eliminating BPA has actually reduced health risks.
The market is driving the state in a direction away from BPA. A state board decision to ban the chemical from packaging would basically be a response to current consumer and businesses practices.