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FDA rejects petition to ban BPA from food packaging

<p>The decision prompted sharp criticism from the NRDC and other environmental health advocates who claim the plastic-hardening chemical should not be used in anything that comes in contact with food or beverages.</p>

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.

The Breast Cancer Fund also took exception to the FDA’s claim that research does not support a ban of BPA in food and beverage packaging.

“Indeed, there is plenty of evidence showing harm -- evidence that has been mounting for years and years,” the Breast Cancer Fund said in a blog on Friday. “The public should be able to count on the FDA to take decisive action to protect everyone. The FDA needs to stop waiting for more and more evidence of harm and get BPA out of our food packaging.”

The NRDC noted that the FDA said its move today does not constitute a final decision on the safety of BPA.

The long-running debate on BPA has led to a phaseout of the substance in baby bottles and regulations in some states that bar the chemical from being used in any vessel that holds liquids consumed by babies. Some food companies and makers of beverage containers have voluntarily removed or pledged to remove BPA from their products.

Here is further coverage on the issue by GreenBiz:

2 more reasons to eliminate BPA: Obesity and diabetes

An Uninvited Thanksgiving Guest: BPA

Americans Twice as Contaminated With Toxic BPA As Canadians

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