STOP PRESS: Global concern is increasing rapidly over the adverse effects of low doses of the chemical Bisphenol A, BPA, on the development of the brain and the nervous system in infants and young children
EFSA Opinion on BPA: long gestation and lengthy delivery
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has already published a risk assessment (2007), an opinion and a statement (2008) on the chemical Bisphenol A, BPA. All of these reiterated that BPA is permitted for use in food contact materials according to the European Commission Directive of 2002.
In March 2010 EFSA organised a meeting with national experts, but the promised “comprehensive opinion” on the safety of BPA was delayed. Experts met again at EFSA’s headquarters in Parma, Italy, from 6-8 July 2010. The long-awaited scientific opinion on BPA was due to be published on 15 July but was again postponed, until September 2010:
Consumers join scientists to call for action
19 scientists from 15 countries and 41 NGOs have written to EFSA stating that “action is necessary to reduce the levels of BPA, particularly in groups at highest risk, namely young infants and pregnant mothers”. This unprecedented global action draws attention to new studies on the toxicity of BPA and the risks of exposure: http://www.wecf.eu/english/articles/2010/06/bpa-call.php
Consumer concerns are increasingly driving governments to take action to eliminate the use of BPA in food packaging materials, especially for vulnerable groups such as infants and young children. In Australia, parents are concerned about BPA in plastic baby feeding bottles and in the linings of caps of baby food jars. In France, parents worry about plastic cups and plates used in crèches.
Several countries in the European Union have responded to consumer anxiety and have already taken action without waiting for the EFSA opinion:
Denmark’s ban on BPA in materials in contact with food for children aged 0-3 was introduced in March 2010 with a 3-month transitional period to allow products already in stock to be marketed. As from 1 July 2010 BPA is not allowed in any of the products covered by the ban: feeding bottles and cups and materials in contact with food. The Danish Minister of Health said that new studies raise uncertainties about the impact of even small amounts of BPA: “In my opinion, these uncertainties must benefit the consumers, so we will utilise the precautionary principle to introduce a national ban”.
France passed legislation on 23 June 2010 banning baby bottles containing BPA but stopped short of banning the use of BPA in other materials in contact with children’s food. There is now a national campaign to ban the chemical from plastic cups and plates used in crèches and school cafeterias.
In Germany, the Federal Environment Agency issued new guidance calling on “manufacturers, importers and users of BPA to use alternative substances that pose less risk to human health and the environment in all areas of use that significantly contribute to exposure”.
Sweden’s Environment Minister said on 11 May 2010 that “if the EU will not quickly forbid the hormone disrupting substance BPA in plastic baby bottles, Sweden will precede with a national prohibition”.
Action has also been taken on other continents:
The California State Assembly passed a bill on 2 July 2010 to ban BPA in materials in contact with food for children aged 3 and under, with the Senate likely to follow suit. However, State Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger may veto the bill under pressure from the plastics and chemicals industry which has spent vast sums on lobbying politicians.
Australia announced on 30 June 2010 a voluntary phase out by major retailers of baby bottles containing BPA. The media release cites several countries as having taken voluntary measures to introduce withdrawals of BPA from the market, including the USA, Canada and European countries: link. However, apart from the case of Germany, these measures are not merely voluntary but regulatory. Canada’s regulations prohibit the use of BPA in polycarbonate feeding bottles.
Australia’s Parliamentary Secretary for Health said that “The government has listened to families on the issue of BPA and we have taken appropriate action”.
This statement underlines the importance of pressure from families on decision-makers, and should encourage us all to join national and global campaigns to raise concerns about BPA in all materials in contact with foodstuffs, and not just baby feeding bottles.
Prenatal transmission of BPA is a major concern, coming over and above the effects on infants and young children caused by BPA in materials in contact with foods. Recent research indicates that BPA at low environmentally relevant levels can cross the human placenta, thus increasing the need to protect pregnant women and their unborn children. (Source: Balakrishnan B, Henare K, Thorstensen EB et al. Transfer of bisphenol A across the human placenta. Am J Obstet Gynecol 2010; 202:393.el-7.)
UK scientists have cited the growing evidence that pre- and postnatal exposure to BPA is a factor in development of some cancers, in the same way that Diethylstilboestrol (DES) increased the breast cancer risk of women in later life. Both BPA and DES are man-made hormones called xeno-oestrogens. Breast Cancer UK and the USA Breast Cancer Fund are now leading campaigners for legislation to ban BPA, citing the primary interest of science and children’s health.
On the other hand, the European Group of Plastics is fighting hard against what they call “misuse” of the precautionary principle.
May 2010: Decisions of the upper and lower houses of Parliament in France. The French Parliament has approved the suspension of sales of polycarbonate feeding bottles containing Bisphenol A, as proposed by the French Senate in March. This ban includes the production, marketing, import and export of BPA for use in baby feeding bottles. A ban on feeding bottles containing BPA is in place in child-care centres in major French cities, including Paris. French Parliamentarians have called for an information campaign to inform pregnant women, and hoping for a total ban on the use of BPA in all containers of foods and drinks for children below 3 years of age. The French Food Safety Agency has called for a systematic labeling system to alert consumers to the presence of BPA, and warned against over-heating of containers because this can increase the risk of migration of BPA into foods and drinks.
May 2010: New study finds that exposure to Bisphenol A could alter hormone levels in males. Male infertility is a growing problem and various causes have been proposed. There are few studies on the effect on humans of BPA contained in polycarbonate baby feeding bottles and epoxy linings of food tins or cans: most data comes from studies on rodents. However, new research shows that concentrations of BPA in men’s urine can affect level of hormones, due to alterations in production or elimination of hormones, and that this may be a contributing factor to poorer sperm quality: http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es9028292
March 2010: EFSA, the European Food Safety Authority, convened an international expert meeting on risks from BPA used in polycarbonate feeding bottles and epoxy linings of tins and cans. Denmark, France and Germany made presentations on work on assessment of health risks and on appraisal of research studies on toxicity of BPA on neurodevelopment. The draft EFSA Opinion on BPA will be discussed with global food safety bodies and reviewed in May for possible publication in June 2010.
This EFSA meeting reviewed the methodology of other studies to examine flaws that made the scientific conclusions questionable. One such study found that BPA does not damage the nervous system in rats: researchers in this study include staff of the American Chemistry Council and the Dow Chemical Company. The European plastics industry welcomed the study.
France has taken action while EFSA deliberates, because the European Union is well known for its prevarication and attempts to please the food and chemicals industry as well as consumers. On March 24 the French Senate called for a ban on the use of BPA in plastic feeding bottles until the French food safety authority delivers its verdict on the chemical. The European plastics industry has criticised the Senate’s decision, which has been sent to the National Assembly of the French Parliament.
Denmark has also taken action while waiting for EFSA to refine its position. As of July 1 2010, the Government of Denmark has introduced a temporary ban on the use of BPA in all materials in contact with food for children from 0-3 years. Denmark has thus exercised the Precautionary Principle after reviewing studies showing that exposure to even low levels of BPA could inhibit the learning capacity of children. The ban thus aims to protect babies and young children from the risks to the development of the brain and nervous system caused by exposure to BPA.
The ban proposed by the French Senate includes the production, importation, exportation and marketing of BPA for use in baby feeding bottles. It is important to note that feeding bottles and teats or nipples fall under the scope of the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes, adopted in 1981, which regulates all forms of promotion of these infant feeding products.