NRDC Lawsuit Finally Prompts FDA to Agree to Determine Safety of BPA

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has finally committed to a decision by March 31, 2012 on whether to ban BPA from use in packaging for food and drinks. This was announced today as part of a settlement agreement with NRDC. 

More than three years ago, NRDC filed a petition with FDA asking it to ban the use of BPA as a food additive. We waited and we waited, but never got an answer. FDA could have agreed to ban BPA, rejected our petition, or accepted some parts of it and not others, but instead it chose not to respond at all.

Legally, FDA has no more than 180 days to respond to a written petition. We filed that petition in October 2008, so that deadline came and went long ago without any ruling. After waiting 18 months without a response, we filed a lawsuit asking the court to intervene and require a date certain for the agency to respond.

Now, FDA has agreed to give us an answer – 41 months after the petition was filed.

While we are glad FDA is finally going to make a decision BPA in food packaging and this is a major step forward in the legal process, it is discouraging that FDA has not responded and that we had to ask the court to intervene just to get FDA to do its job. The agency has been dragging its feet on making a decision about BPA for far too long. 

BPA is a synthetic chemical which mimics the female sex hormone, estrogen. Many scientific studies have linked it to reproductive harm, cancer, and abnormal brain development. It has no place in the food supply and its use in food and beverage containers needs to be banned. 

Evidence has been mounting for over a decade but it wasn’t until 2007, when FDA began a re-assessment of BPA safety as a food additive. It drafted a report concluding BPA was safe as a food additive but its draft was strongly criticized by its science advisors and FDA was sent back to the drawing board.  In 2009, FDA returned with another draft, which was again rebuked by external scientists. In 2010, in lieu of its own report, FDA announced it would adopt another inter-governmental agency’s report on BPA toxicity and would be conducting its own research. That report, which had been published two years before FDA accepted it, found “some concern” for the impacts of early life exposure of BPA on development of the brain and for contributing to the onset of prostate cancer later in life.

Beginning in 2010, FDA’s website promised the public a definitive answer on BPA safety by June 2011, but that statement has been removed without explanation.  There have been no further updates from FDA since January 2010. In the meantime, more and more scientific studies and reports continue to be published raising concerns about the safety of this chemical in our food supply.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the only case where FDA has failed to act in a timely manner to respond to the public’s concern.  Just last week, NRDC sued the agency again for failing to provide records requested under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).  In addition not being responsive to the public, FDA has stalled making decisions, used outdated science, and lacked transparency in its decision making. We have a new website which summarizes a few examples of situations where the public has been let down by FDA.

From the use of antibiotics in healthy livestock, to allowing the use of unproven and unsafe chemicals in hand soaps, to using inadequate science in assessing the safety of Gulf seafood, FDA has not been fulfilling its mission to protect of public health.

We hope that FDA will respond sooner than March to our request to remove BPA from the food supply. It already seems poised to respond to an industry petition to revoke approval of BPA for use in baby bottles and sippy cups. And that petition was only filed two months ago!

But we know that the major source of exposure isn’t baby bottles, but canned food. Every day, millions of American consumers are exposed to this dangerous chemical, found in most canned foods, beverages and even baby formula. The FDA has an obligation use scientific evidence to assure us that food additives such as BPA are safe.

 While we wait for FDA to come to a decision, here are a few things you can do to reduce your BPA exposure:

  • Limit your consumption of canned or processed food by eating fresh or frozen produce and buying processed food in "brick" cartons, pouches or glass.
  • Limit your consumption of canned soda and beer - where possible choose glass as an alternative.
  • If you have a newborn, avoid feeding him/her any prepared liquid formula in a can. Breast is always best, but if you are using formula, powdered formulations are known to be BPA free.
  • Use a BPA-free reusable water bottle, such as an unlined stainless steel bottle.
  • Don't allow your children to have dental sealants made from BPA (or BADGE) applied to their teeth, and don't have these sealants applied to your teeth while you are pregnant. Ask your dentist to provide BPA-free treatments.
  • Tell the store clerk to keep the receipt. Thermal paper receipts are coated with high levels of BPA which can transfer through your skin into your body.