canned foodOh, you wanted it poison-free? Let’s hope this report represents a tipping of the government’s hand on bisphenol A and not a case of someone going rogue:

The head of the primary federal agency studying the safety of bisphenol A said Friday that people should avoid ingesting the chemical–especially pregnant women, infants and children.

“There are plenty of reasonable alternatives,” said Linda Birnbaum, director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Toxicology Program, in an interview with the Journal Sentinel.

While stressing she is not a medical doctor, Birnbaum said she has seen enough studies on the chemical to be concerned about its effects on human health.

A grandmother, Birnbaum said she advises her children to avoid using food packaged in containers made with BPA.

Asked if consumers should be worried about BPA, Birnbaum said, “Absolutely.”

The NIEH is part of the National Institutes for Health and Birnbaum is the person more or less in charge of all new BPA research — so this is very promising indeed. Her comments were made to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which has been doing phenomenal work on BPA of late. This latest twist comes as rumors mount that the FDA will announce the delayed results of its review of research on BPA as soon as Monday. This story had taken on odd turn when the original November 30th deadline came and went while an FDA spokesman suggested that it might be weeks before the BPA review release because “[s]ome things happened that I can’t go into that were beyond our control.”

Curiouser and curiouser. If I had to guess I would imagine that the chemical industry saw the draft report and pushed back hard behind the scenes. But again I’m guessing. Back to Birnbaum for a moment, though, because she closed by suggesting that the US needs to radically reform the way we look at industrial chemicals and public health:

Birnbaum said the traditional ways of looking at a chemical’s danger need to be replaced with more precise measures.

“We’re not asking the right questions,” she said. “We have to look more broadly.”

Birnbaum said she would like to see the federal government use the precautionary principle to regulate chemicals. That approach, used in Canada and throughout Europe, requires that a chemical be proved to be safe before it is allowed to be used in commerce.

In the United States, chemicals are allowed on the market and removed only if they have been found to cause harm.

Regarding BPA, Birnbaum said there is enough uncertainty about its safety to caution people to avoid it in food contact items.

Note that she said “people” and not “infants and toddlers,” which is a more commonly suggested restriction. BPA is a danger to anyone who ingests it (and right now that’s 90% of us) — and is used in the linings of virtually all canned goods including in soda and beer cans. If there’s one misfire in Birnbaum’s comments, it’s her claim elsewhere in the interview that avoiding BPA is “simple.” Giving up all canned goods and drinks (not to mention plastic wrap) isn’t simple in my book — I know: I committed to doing it myself.

In the end, however, if the FDA won’t use its report as an excuse to announce an outright ban on BPA, let’s hope it at least gives Congress the data (not to mention the backbone) it needs to ban the chemical from food packaging once and for all.