Statement by Janet Nudelman, Director of Program and Policy, Breast Cancer Fund.
Motivated by the growing number of studies that show exposure to the toxic chemical bisphenol A (BPA) harms health, particularly for babies and young children, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) introduced legislation today to require labels on food packaging made with BPA.
Feinstein’s bill comes on the heels of two pieces of proposed legislation aimed at reforming our nation’s federal chemical regulatory system: a House bill introduced last week that would ban BPA in food packaging, and the Chemical Safety Improvement Act (S.1009), which was introduced on May 22 by a bipartisan group of 20 senators and attempts to reform the woefully outdated Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976.
BPA in Food Packaging Right to Know Act
If enacted, the BPA in Food Packaging Right to Know Act would protect the public from BPA exposure and improve food packaging safety by making consumers aware of products containing endocrine-disrupting chemicals, like BPA, that interfere with a body’s normal hormone functioning, and may increase risk for cancer, infertility and other disorders.
First, all food packaging containing BPA in whole or in part would include a label that reads “This food packaging contains BPA, an endocrine-disrupting chemical.” This simple label will alert consumers as to the presence of the chemical and help them make more informed decisions about the products they buy.
Secondly, the legislation directs the Department of Health and Human Services to do a safety assessment of food containers containing BPA. The assessment would provide much-needed information about whether there is reasonable certainty that no harm would come from long-term, low dose exposure to BPA. This is an important directive to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which, in its last safety assessment, ignored over 100 independent studies showing harm from low dose exposures to BPA in favor of two industry-funded studies showing no harm.
Feinstein’s proposed legislation also directs the FDA to study the effects of BPA exposure on vulnerable populations including pregnant women, infants, children, the elderly, and populations with high exposure to BPA, like workers. The FDA would use safety assessments to evaluate alternatives, so that BPA would not be replaced with an equally toxic chemical.
The bill is cosponsored by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Angus King (I-Maine).
Exposures to BPA
The most common source of exposure to BPA is food packaging, including canned foods. The Centers for Disease Control found BPA in 93 percent of all Americans tested. Recent studies on the health effects have raised concerns about the ubiquitous exposure of the population to both low and high levels of BPA.
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.
Feinstein’s record as public health champion
Sen. Feinstein has long championed restrictions on BPA in food packaging. Feinstein was particularly fired up during the 2010 reauthorization of the Food Safety Modernization Act when the food industry threatened to kill the whole bill after they learned of her intention to offer an amendment to ban BPA from infant food packaging and beverage containers. At that time, Feinstein told The Washington Post, “I feel very strongly that the government should protect people from harmful chemicals. BPA should be addressed as a part of the food safety overhaul.” Feinstein was forced to drop her proposed amendment after the American Chemistry Council hijacked the Senate support she had generated, but kept her word to keep working on making food packaging safer, particularly for babies and young children, by introducing the BPA in Food Packaging Right to Know Act today.
In 2013 alone, 14 states have introduced legislation to more strictly regulate BPA in food packaging. Three states – South Dakota, Nevada and Connecticut – introduced BPA labeling laws this year, suggesting the momentum to curb the use of BPA in food packaging is growing at the state level as well. The Breast Cancer Fund supports the BPA in Food Packaging Right to Know Act and thanks Sen. Feinstein for her national leadership to ensure food safety and to establish strong standards that protect people from toxic chemicals.