canOh, yes we can: It’s time for the FDA to act on its own information regarding canned foods and BPA.The next time an FDA panel convenes to discuss whether to ban BPA, the endocrine-disrupting industrial chemical used in can liners, it will have new data to consider — a study by the agency’s own scientists. In a just-released report, they tested a range of commonly used canned foods, from peas to chili, and found “detectable” levels of BPA in 71 of 78 samples.

Given that millions of Americans consume these foods daily and that the dangers of BPA have been known for years now, you might think there’s a broad range of studies looking at the question of BPA leaching into everyday foods. Not so. The FDA researchers surveyed the literature, and found a glaring hole. They write:

It was clear that there were no large scale studies of the U.S. market and that there were significant data gaps for highly consumed canned foods, such as chili, pastas and pork and beans.

So now the gap has been filled and we know that a broad swath of the public is exposed regularly to a toxin known to cause harm at extremely low levels. Will the FDA now act to banish it?

Well, the agency has a history of acknowledging public health menaces without having the political will to act on them. As Tom Laskawy reported yesterday, the FDA has acknowledged the threat of antibiotic abuse on factory animal farms, but has been so feeble about acting on it that a coterie of environmental groups has decided to sue to force the agency’s hand.

And on BPA itself, the agency has acknowledged its dangers — and said, in essence, that it simply can’t act on behalf of the public to address the problem. On the one hand, after years of denying mounting evidence that BPA posed serious health risks, the agency declared in 2010 that it had “some concern about the potential effects of BPA on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants, and young children.”

On the other, the agency has essentially claimed it is unable to ban it from use. “Today there exist hundreds of different formulations for BPA-containing epoxy linings, which have varying characteristics,” and food companies aren’t obligated to declare which ones they’re using, the agency complained in its January statement. “If FDA were to decide to revoke one or more approved uses, FDA would need to undertake what could be a lengthy process of rulemaking to accomplish this goal,” the agency declared.

In other words, the poison has been distilled into so many forms that it would take a lot of work to keep it out of food processing. Perhaps with this new information, the FDA will begin to do that work. If not, perhaps another lawsuit is in order.