Bisphenol A, commonly abbreviated as BPA, is vile stuff–not the kind of thing a smart species knowingly introduces into its ecosystem.
And if a species were to willfully foul its nest with BPA, it would at least be wise to keep it out of direct contact with food.
That’s because BPA is an established endocrine disruptor. In June, the Endocrine Society relased a statement warning of the health threat presented by BPA. According to the statement, low-level exposure to BPA adversely affects male and female reproduction, thyroid function, metabolism, and could increase obesity.
Unhappily, our species hasn’t seen fit to ban BPA production. Instead, we’ve ginned up a robust and profitable market for it. BPA is a building block of plastic–and modern society remains highly dependent on cheap and abundant plastic.
According to a an industry source, U.S. BPA demand is growing at about a 4 percent annual pace. In Asia, the growth rate is much higher. That’s not surprising, given that BPA is commonly used in electronic gadgets, and Asia generally manufactures our electronics.
Nor have we seen fit to protect our food supply from the nasty stuff. Indeed, we literally pack food in it–BPA is a key part of the lining in cans for foodstuffs.
This week, another study has emerged showing that alarming levels of BPA leach out of can liners right into your green beans–and your baby formula. This one, by conducted by Consumers Reports, looked at 19 common supermarket products. “Almost all” of them showed measurable levels of BPA, CR found. Here’s more:
The highest levels of BPA in our tests were found in the canned green beans and canned soup. In Progresso Vegetable Soup, the levels of BPA ranged from 67 to 134 ppb. In Campbell’s Condensed Chicken Noodle Soup, the levels of BPA ranged from 54.5 to 102 ppb. Canned Del Monte Fresh Cut Green Beans Blue Lake had BPA levels ranging from 35.9 ppb to 191 ppb, the highest amount for a single sample in our test.
What does this mean? “A 165-pound adult eating one serving of canned green beans from our sample, which averaged 123.5 ppb, could ingest about 0.2 micrograms of BPA per kilogram of body weight per day, about 80 times higher than our experts’ recommended daily upper limit.” (Emphasis added.)
Endocrine disruption, meet political corruption
Of course, the Food and Drug Administration has a much more expansive take on how much BPA exposure a human body can endure without harm than Consumer Reports. An FDA advisory panel found last year that the agency’s “basis for setting safety standards to protect consumers was inadequate and should be re-evaluated,” reports CR. But the FDA still hasn’t adjusted its policy toward BPA, and “Industry has been waging a fight against new regulations,” Consumer Reports says.
Unhappily, the chemical industry exerts major influence over our guardian of food safety. In a superb, must-read, award-worthy special series published this year, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel showed that for years, the FDA has “relied on chemical industry lobbyists to examine bisphenol A’s risks.” Sentinel journalists got hold of nine years worth of FDA emails on BPA. Get this:
In one instance, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s deputy director sought information from the BPA industry’s chief lobbyist to discredit a Japanese study that found it caused miscarriages in workers who were exposed to it. This was before government scientists even had a chance to review the study.
Most egregiously, the agency based its 2008 draft review declaring BPA safe on two studies funded by the chemical industry. And that’s not all: an industry trade group “wrote entire sections of that draft.”
While FDA bureaucrats play bump-and-tickle with industry chiefs to form policy on BPA regulations, NGOs have been testing consumer food products and finding significant levels of the damaging substance. The Consumer Union study was only the latest. Back in 2007, Environmental Working Group tested 97 canned products. Over half contained significant levels of BPA.
Infant formula showed particularly poorly: “1 in 3 cans of infant formula, a single serving contained enough BPA to expose a woman or infant to BPA levels more than 200 times the government’s traditional safe level of exposure for industrial chemicals.” In the two years since the Environmental Working Group tests, how many people have unwittingly exposed themselves–and their children–to endocrine disruption while FDA administrators cravenly kept their mouths shut? And now that yet another set of independent tests have revealed routine BPA contamination of supermarket staples, will the FDA now act?
One hopes, with the Bush Administration out of office, that the FDA will crack down on BPA use by the food industry. But the U.S. market for the stuff is controlled by extremely powerful corporations, including Bayer, Dow, and Sabic, a Saudi-owned chemical giant. Globally, BPA is an industry with $6 billion in sales. With cash like that at stake, Bayer, et al., aren’t going to merely skulk away. “”The industry has launched an unprecedented public relations blitz that uses many of the same tactics–and people–the tobacco industry used in its decades-long fight against regulation,” reports the Journal Sentinel.
Indeed, Big Tobacco and the BPA merchants don’t just share PR flacks: the tobacco companies put BPA in filters. According to the Journal Sentinel, “Lobbyists for tobacco closely followed the government’s assessment of BPA because of concerns that a ban on the chemical would affect cigarette filters and plastic packaging. The two industries share the same lobby firm, the Weinberg Group.”
Seems like a smart species would demand that those entities stop producing BPA–PR blitz withstanding. But that would entail the FDA cutting ties to industry and devoting itself to public health.