Statement by Janet Nudelman, Director of Program and Policy, Breast Cancer Fund.
As U.S. states, manufacturers, and governments around the world reject the use of the toxic chemical bisphenol A (BPA), Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) took the challenge to the U.S. Congress, introducing the Ban Poisonous Additives Act of 2013 (BPA Act) to prohibit the use of BPA in food and beverage containers. Since 2008, Markey has taken the lead in the House of Representatives to banish BPA from food packaging, a major source of exposure to the chemical, due to rising health concerns. In the Senate, Diane Feinstein (D-CA) has been the champion against BPA in food packaging, and is also likely to introduce new legislation this month.
The more that is understood about BPA, the more urgent it becomes to eliminate this chemical from food packaging and consumer products. Nearly 200 scientific studies show that exposures to even low doses of BPA, particularly during pregnancy and early infancy, are associated with a wide range of adverse health effects later in life, including increased breast cancer risk. Studies show that BPA exposure can make non-cancerous breast cells grow and survive like cancer cells, and can actually make the cells less responsive to the cancer-inhibiting effects of tamoxifen, a drug used in the treatment of breast cancer.
BPA has been found in blood and urine of pregnant women, in the umbilical cord blood of newborns and in breast milk soon after women gave birth. These data indicate that pregnant women exposed to BPA can easily pass this chemical to their children during pregnancy or breastfeeding.
Yet most people are exposed to BPA every day. The Centers for Disease Control found BPA in 93 percent of all Americans tested and the National Institutes of Health point to food packaging as a major route of exposure.
One route of BPA exposure has been halted in the U.S.: in 2012, the FDA prohibited BPA from baby bottles and sippy cups. The FDA took this action only after the American Chemistry Council (ACC) petitioned the agency to support the ban. Ironically, due to public demand, the vast majority of manufacturers had already stopped using BPA in baby bottles by the time the ACC asked for and the FDA decided to issue their ban. The ACC’s support of the regulation most likely represents a tactical move. Their fear of more expansive BPA regulations, such as banning BPA from canned food, is a better explanation for the chemical industry’s support of the bottle ban.
Over the past five years, 34 states have introduced legislation to restrict BPA; twelve states adopted legislation to ban BPA from baby bottles and sippy cups, and three of those states also banned BPA from infant formula and baby food. The baby bottle ban has not slowed down efforts to restrict use of the chemical; in 2013 alone, 14 states have introduced legislation to more strictly regulate BPA in food packaging.
Market campaigns against BPA in canned foods also have been successful in pushing manufacturers to move away from the chemical. The Breast Cancer Fund’s Cans Not Cancer campaign announced last year that Campbell Soup Company will phase out the use of BPA in its can linings. Heinz and Eden Foods have transitioned away from BPA, as has ConAgra and Muir Glen. Supermarket chain Kroger announced earlier this year its store brands and baby products will be BPA free.
Worldwide bans on BPA have been enacted. The EU, Malaysia, China, Denmark, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, and Canada have all banned BPA from baby bottles. France announced a ban on BPA in packaging for children under age 3 as of 2013, and all food packaging (effective 2014).
In stark contrast, the U.S. government has failed to act on BPA, with the sole exception of the baby bottle ban, which was requested by chemical makers. But Representative Markey hopes to change that. In addition to championing federal legislative action, Representative Markey has been relentless and creative in his efforts to get the government to take action.
In 2012, Markey filed three petitions with the FDA to ban the use of BPA in food packaging, becoming the first member of Congress to use FDA’s citizen petition process to pressure the FDA to take regulatory action against the toxic chemical. His petitions asked the FDA to amend its regulations for infant formula and baby food uses of BPA, ban the use of BPA in canned food intended for children 12 or younger, and ban BPA from reusable food containers.
The FDA formally accepted his infant formula petition, opened a public comment period last summer but has yet to formally respond. In 2011 the FDA rejected a petition filed by Natural Resources Defense Council to ban BPA from food packaging, stating that it needed more evidence of harm before acting.
Despite clear signals from scientists, consumers, retailers, manufacturers and state and world governments that BPA does not belong in any of our food packaging, the FDA has yet to finish its safety assessment of BPA. Clearly the FDA needs to catch up. And, in the meantime, Congress should pass Rep. Markey’s legislation, the Ban Poisonous Additives Act of 2013.