By Xinjuan Deng
Capital News Service
LANSING — The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has decided to allow a controversial chemical to remain in food packaging.
The chemical, Bisphenol A (BPA), is used to line beer, soda, vegetable and soup cans, as well as other consumer products such as reusable plastic water bottles.
Although the agency stressed that research is ongoing, it said there isn’t enough scientific evidence to support claims that BPA has adverse effects on people.
Eden Foods Inc. in Clinton has had BPA-free packaging since 1999 when customers expressed concerns about the chemical.
Jonathan Wilson, the media manager at Eden Foods, said the company didn’t want to use cans with BPA if there were even a chance that they could be dangerous.
“Our production costs have significantly increased because of the type of can we use. We pay 21 percent more for our 15-ounce cans, 39 percent more for our 20-ounce cans and 34 percent more for the 108-ounce cans,” Wilson said.
Some leading companies like Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Toys “R” Us and Campell’s Soup Co. have already removing BPA from their products.
Meanwhile, environmental groups are putting pressure on the federal government rather than manufacturers to discontinue use of BPA.
The products BPA goes into, from plastic bottles to DVDs, will generate $8 billion for producers of the chemical, according to Global Data.
Five states passed legislation to ban BPA in 2011: California, Maryland, Maine, Delaware and Connecticut. This year, 20 states are considering proposals to restrict BPA, according to Safer States, a national network of health organization.
Illinois, New York and Wisconsin are the only Great Lakes states considering BPA restrictions in 2012.
Some advocacy groups disagree with the FDA’s decision.
For example, the Natural Resources Defense Council, which petitioned the FDA in 2008 to eliminate BPA from all packaging, criticized the agency.
“BPA is a toxic chemical that has no place in our food supply. We believe FDA made the wrong call,” said Sarah Janssen, a senior scientist in the council’s public health program.
The council cites numerous studies to prove that BPA is a hormone-disrupting chemical linked to cancer, obesity and other health problems.
But other research on the effects of BPA came up with the opposite result.
For example, in a recent study funded by the U.S Environmental Protection Agency, researchers from FDA and other two federal laboratories concluded that it is very unlikely that BPA could harm human health.
And Steven Hentges, a researcher at the American Chemistry Council in Washington, said, “BPA is one of the most thoroughly tested chemicals used today and has a safety track record in food contact of over 40 years.”
He said the council will continue to rely on the experts at FDA to evaluate the safety of BPA.
There is still a huge research gap, a University of Michigan scientist said.
The reasons include the compound nature of BPA, which means the timing of exposure can influence the results, and research methods, said Dana Dolinoy, an assistant professor of environmental health science.
The source of funding may also be factor, she said.
“There was an interesting study that pointed out 90 percent of the BPA study funding comes from the government.”
The federal government is spending $30 million for additional studies on BPA’s impact on humans.
She said industry provides little funding.
The cost of eliminating BPA is a barrier for manufacturers, but another crucial issue focuses on alternatives, Dolinoy said.
“BPA is in so many commonly used products. When we are trying to get BPA out of cans, it is not clear what the good alternative is. One of the interesting questions is whether these alternatives are good and well-studied themselves,” she said.
Dolinoy said, “It is very complicated situation, and it is important to keep the BPA research ongoing. We can expect more detailed results in next one to two years.”