Writing in the Food Standards Agency’s (FSA's) online magazine, Bite, Professor David Coggon said: “The ban on BPA in baby-feed bottles is not based on scientific evidence of harm, or even on a strong suspicion that it could be harmful.”
The COT provides independent advice to the FSA and the Department of Health (DOH), and Coggon was responding to Dr Morag Parnell from the Women’s Environmental Network Scotland.
She said the EC decision to ban the import and marketing of bottles from June 1 followed research linking organic compund BPA with human endocrine disruption (where it can mimic the body's hormones) and severe health conditions.
Industrial chemical BPA is used to make a hard, clear plastic used in polycarbonate baby bottles; it is also used to manufacture epoxy resins, which act as a protective lining on the inside of metal-based food and beverage cans.
More important issues
Parnell called for an FSA response to a “pressing matter” upon which there is a considerable lack of public knowledge of potential risks – where she noted that BPA can leach into baby’s milk, especially when polycarbonate feed bottles are heated up, and other foods.
She also stressed concerns given the compound’s widespread use in food products such as can linings.
But Coggon said a recent European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) toxicity review of BPA reconfirmed a tolerable daily intake (TDI) of 0.05mg/kg bodyweight for the compound, “This is a daily level of exposure over the course of a lifetime from which there is reasonable confidence that adverse health effects would not occur”.
“A disadvantage of over-precautionary advice to consumers is that it distracts attention from other more important factors, such as … microbial contamination of food,” he added.
However, Parnell said the FSA risked isolation – following decisions to limit or ban BPA’s use in Canada, France, Denmark and elsewhere. “Surely we’ve learned from the lessons of asbestos, pregnancy X-rays, thalidomide, and [synthetic oestrogen] diethylstilboestrol (BPA’s big sister),” she said.
“The FSA has had the courage to remove suspected substances in the past on similar evidence.”
Many large food manufacturers continue to use BPA in can linings, and Coca-Cola recently upset some shareholders by announcing that there was insufficient evidence to stop using the chemical in epoxy can liners.
But Heinz has taken a lead on this issue, and spokesman told FoodManufacture.co.uk that despite reassurances from UK and European food authorities that minute levels of BPA in can coatings are safe, “Heinz remains committed to moving to alternatives” as part of global phase-out.
“For beans, pasta and many soups a protective coating is only applied to the can ends which would not leave any trace of BPA or would only be found at the limit of detection of a few parts per billion.
“This compares with safe legal limit of 600 parts per billion,” he said, adding that the firm’s Beanz Snap Pots and Beanz Fridge Packs contain no BPA, while the organic compound is not used in any Heinz Baby packaging.
Bananas over BPA
Despite research into alternative coatings, the spokesman said that Heinz' first priority was consumer safety “before making any changes”, a view shared by Keith Barnes, chairman of The Packaging Society.
“Changing the formulation of the can coating liquid takes time, and you need to test, test, test, in case the potential health implications of the replacement are worse than with the substance you’re replacing," he said.
On the Bisphenol A scare more generally, Barnes said he understood concerns over babies’ bottles, but said he didn’t believe that food packaging per se was a real risk, and that without using the compound in can linings there would be a higher risk of metal contamination of foods.
“There's an issue there [with babies' bottles] because they'll suck on the thing for a number of months, although some scientists say they’d have to suck on it for 50-60 years for there to be a problem. Obviously, by then you’d probably have other health issues.”
“Some nations have gone bananas about this issue, but I don’t see it as a long-term problem for the UK canning industry.”