EU Bisphenol A ban not based on science, COT

By Ben Bouckley

- Last updated on GMT

Heinz is committed to a BPA alternative in can linings, despite insisting that minute levels are safe
Heinz is committed to a BPA alternative in can linings, despite insisting that minute levels are safe

Related tags: Bisphenol a

A scientist who chairs the UK's independent Committee on Toxicity (COT) says the European Commission’s (EC’s) move to ban the import of baby bottles using Bisphenol A (BPA) is not based on scientific evidence, and has rejected calls to ban its use in food packaging.

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.

Higher BPA concentrations have been linked by recent studies to higher incidences of cardiovascular diseases (Lang et al 2008)​ and lower human sperm quality (De-Kun Li et al. 2010).

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.

Asbestos, thalidomide…

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.”

Related topics: Food Safety, Ambient foods, Chilled foods

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3 comments

How much proof do you need

Posted by food toxicologist,

There is more evidence of the safety of BPA than for any other packageing material and more than for the vast majority of substances (natural or synthetic) outside of the pharmaceuticals area. The weight of evidence supporting the safety of BPA is overwhelming. If this evidence is not enough then nothing will ever be enough. At some point there must be a limit to the expense incurred to satisfy those who simply choose not to be informed.

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Prove it is safe

Posted by Elizabeth Redmond,

Why dont you prove it is SAFE before you use it, not ban it once you know it is HARMFUL? http://www.metametrixinstitute.org/post/2011/06/06/Good-thing-babies-can’t-read.aspx Let me leave you with this:

In 1976, Helmut Wakeham, then Philip Morris (PM)’s vice president for research & development, was interviewed by British journalist Peter Taylor. Taylor questioned Wakeham about the number of people health authorities reported were dying from smoking cigarettes. It went something like this...

Wakeham: None of the things that have been found in tobacco smoke are in concentrations that can be considered harmful.
Interviewer: But the components themselves can be considered harmful, can they not?
Wakeham: Anything can be considered harmful. Apple sauce can be harmful if you get too much of it.
Interviewer: I don't think many people are dying from apple sauce...
Wakeham: They're not eating that much (smile)
Interviewer: People are smoking a lot of cigarettes.
Wakeham: Well, let me say it this way. The people who eat apple sauce die. The people who eat sugar die. The people who smoke cigarettes die. Does the fact that people who smoke cigarettes die, demonstrate that smoking is the cause?

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Human well-being before company profits

Posted by Food Scientist,

"REASONABLE confidence that adverse health effects would not occur"!

Not good enough! Have the cumulative effects of BPA been considered? A human being is exposed to BPA via food consumption long after being weaned-off the bottle.

Unless rigid studies performed over decades within cohorts categorically show that there can be 100% confidence that BPA does not in any way interfere with human health negatively, then it has no right being used in food packaging! Human health and well-being are far more important than company profits!

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