FDA rejects petition to ban BPA from food packaging

The controversial plastic-hardening chemical bisphenol A can continue to be used in food and beverage packaging in the U.S., despite studies that raise concerns about the substance, hormone disruption and long-term effects of exposure.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration let current practices stand today, when it rejected a petition from the Natural Resources Defense Council, which sought to eliminate BPA from all food packaging.

“There is not compelling scientific evidence to justify new restrictions” the regulatory agency said in its response.

That view was strongly disputed by the NRDC and other environmental health advocates.

“BPA is a toxic chemical that has no place in our food supply,” said Dr. Sarah Janssen, senior scientist in the public health program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, in a statement.

“We believe FDA made the wrong call,” Janssen’s statement said. “The agency has failed to protect our health and safety -- in the face of scientific studies that continue to raise disturbing questions about the long-term effects of BPA exposures, especially in fetuses, babies and young children.”

“The FDA is out-of-step with scientific and medical research. This illustrates the need for a major overhaul of how the government protects us against dangerous chemicals.”

The organization and public health advocates say that research strongly suggests that the hormone-disrupting chemical is linked to cancer, obesity and other health problems.

The widely used substance can be found in toys, tools and containers of all types. Use in food and beverage packaging includes the lining in some cans. Studies indicate that BPA is present 90 percent of U.S. and Canadian citizens, though mostly at low levels.

The NRDC has long pressed the FDA for a ban on BPA in any material coming in contact with food. The advocacy group filed a petition to the agency in 2008. After receiving no response, the NRDC sued and sought a court order that would force the FDA to respond. In a consent decree last December, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York gave the FDA until March 31 to rule on the petition.

In reaching its decision on the eve of that deadline, the agency said that research on the subject is open to question: In some cases the sample sizes were too small. In many others, the studies involved rodents and other lab animals.

“While evidence from some studies have raised questions as to whether BPA may be associated with a variety of health effects, there remain serious questions about these studies, particularly as they relate to humans,” the FDA said.