Pressure Increases on FDA to Ban Toxic BPA from Food Packaging

On March 16, 2012, Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., formally petitioned the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to ban the use of bisphenol A, or BPA, in food packaging. This is the first time a member of Congress has used the FDA's citizen petition process to pressure the FDA to take regulatory action, signaling a growing frustration on the part of policymakers and the public alike with the FDA’s failure to act on this critical public health issue.

"Representative Markey's petitions adds to the drumbeat of concern regarding BPA in food packaging," said Janet Nudelman, policy director at the Breast Cancer Fund. "Members of Congress, scientists, consumers, retailers, manufacturers - even the chemical industry itself - are imploring the agency to stop dragging its feet on BPA and are justifiably frustrated with the FDA’s inaction."

Last month, the agency settled a lawsuit filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council and agreed to rule by March 31 on the safety of BPA in food packaging. NRDC filed the lawsuit after the FDA failed to respond to a petition it had filed over three and a half years ago asking the agency to ban BPA from food packaging. Even the American Chemistry Council, which represents companies that manufacture BPA, submitted a petition to the FDA in December requesting that the agency ban the hormonally active chemical from baby bottles.

Nearly 200 scientific studies show that exposures to even low doses of BPA, particularly during pregnancy and early infancy, are associated with a wide range of adverse health effects later in life, including increased breast cancer risk. Yet most people are exposed to BPA every day. In fact, the CDC found BPA in 93 percent of all Americans tested, and the National Institutes of Health point to food packaging as a major route of exposure.

The FDA's inaction is in stark contrast to consumer and industry action. Last week, the Breast Cancer Fund's Cans Not Cancer campaign publicized the fact that Campbell Soup Company will phase out the use of BPA in its can linings. Baby bottle and sports water bottle manufacturers abandoned BPA over the last few years. At the public policy level, 11 states have banned BPA from baby bottles and sippy cups, and three of those states have also banned it from infant formula and baby food.

Rep. Markey filed three petitions with the FDA. The first requests that the FDA amend its regulations to remove canned infant formula and canned baby and toddler food from the scope of food-contact applications for polycarbonate and epoxy resins containing BPA, arguing these uses have been intentionally and permanently abandoned by major product manufacturers. A second petition calls on the FDA to ban the use of BPA in canned food intended for children 12 or younger, as well as all other canned food and beverage products, arguing that alternatives to BPA exist and that manufacturers have begun phasing out the use of BPA. The third petition asks the FDA to ban the use of BPA in reusable food containers, citing that major brands of small reusable household food and beverage containers have stopped using BPA.

BPA has been found in blood and urine of pregnant women, in the umbilical cord blood of newborns and in breast milk soon after women gave birth. These data indicate that pregnant women exposed to BPA can easily pass this chemical to their children during pregnancy or breastfeeding and further illustrate why the Markey petitions are so important.

The Breast Cancer Fund submitted a letter of support for Markey's petitions, signed by environmental health, public health, children's health and health care professional organizations representing millions of concerned citizens.

"Concern about BPA in food packaging has grown exponentially over the past few years," said Nudelman. "Consumers, retailers, and the states are saying no to BPA and manufacturers have finally gotten the message. Now the FDA needs to catch up by officially banning the use of BPA in all food packaging so that our nation's children - regardless of where they live or where their parents shop - will be protected."