Consumer Reports’ recent article on the presence of Bisphenol A in canned food drew widespread interest after it was published this past week. It also quickly drew critical comments from industry groups representing companies that manufacture or use BPA, a chemical whose safety is currently being reassessed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The groups took exception to some parts of the report that found nearly all of the 19 name-brand canned foods we tested contained this chemical, which is used in the linings of most food and beverage cans. They did not dispute the test findings of the BPA levels we measured in canned food. Rather, the discussion focused on our risk assessment of the effects of BPA, which was based on the scientific literature that has become available over the past 20 years.
Here’s a sampling of those reactions, along with a more detailed discussion of some of the research involved in the debate:
1. The American Chemistry Council issued a press release contending that our experts’ recommendations, which include calling for a ban on the use of BPA in all materials that come in contact with food, is “inconsistent with the conclusions of expert regulatory bodies worldwide, all of which have confirmed that BPA exposure levels are low and well within safety standards.”
That is exactly the issue. As our story makes clear, food safety experts at Consumers Union believe federal regulatory guidelines—which are the same as those set by the European Food Safety Authority—are outdated and fail to adequately protect consumers. The FDA’s own scientific advisory board also concluded that the agency’s assessment of BPA’s safety is inadequate. Hundreds of scientific studies have shown harm in animal studies from extremely low levels of BPA—levels that are ten to twenty thousand times lower than what the FDA considered as the basis of its safety assessment in 1988. And even some human studies show a link between elevated BPA levels and harmful effects such as diabetes and cardiovascular risk. Our test results show that consumers may be exposed to potentially harmful levels of BPA that could be reached through a few or multiple servings of the canned foods we tested.
2. The North American Metal Packaging Alliance released a similar public statement. It cited a recently published study funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which the can industry trade group says provides “strong new scientific evidence” that exposure to BPA at levels found in our test results is safe.
It is not surprising that the authors did not find effects from BPA because this study used a specific type of rat (Long-Evans) that has been previously shown to be insensitive or unresponsive to low-dose exposures to BPA and even typical birth-control dosages of synthetic estrogen, which was used as a control in the experiment. The insensitivity to both was confirmed again in this study. In other, more estrogenic-sensitive lab animals, BPA has been shown to cause adverse effects at BPA dose levels used in this study.
3. A blog posted by Trevor Butterworth, online editor of Statistical Assessment Service (STATS), questioned the scientific evidence used in our risk assessments. STATS says it is a non-profit, non-partisan organization that acts as “a resource for journalists and policy makers on major scientific issues and controversies.” In his blog, Butterworth claimed that studies we cited as evidence of harm from BPA at low doses are irrelevant because they involved exposing lab animals to BPA via injection rather than orally.