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Ingredients > Food labelling

New BPA evidence piles pressure on FDA to set exposure limits

By Chris Jones , 17-Apr-2008

Pressure is growing on the US Food and Drug Administration to set new restrictions on the use of the chemical bisphenol A (BPA) in food packaging following a new safety study.

A report from the US National Toxicology Program (NTP) concluded that there was "some concern for neural and behavioural effects in foetuses, infants, and children at current human exposures" to BPA, which is used extensively in the plastic lining in food cans. According to the NTP, there was evidence that BPA could induce cancer in humans at current exposure levels, although it stressed that "more research is needed". The report, published earlier this week, has already prompted calls from senior US politicians for rapid action from the FDA, which has previously cleared BPA for use in food packaging. Existing concerns This is not the first study to suggest a link between cancer and BPA. A report published last year by Environmental Working Group (EWG), a non-profit environmental research organisation, showed that the chemical could leach into canned food at levels reaching 200 times the 'acceptable' amount. As yet, the FDA has set no maximum exposure levels for BPA - EWG's 'acceptable' level was based on government studies on rodents, with human exposure typically set to between 1000 to 3000 times the levels that harm lab animals. But it is the NTP's suggestion that BPA could be harmful even at 'normal' exposure levels that has prompted calls for the FDA to finally set some form of maximum intake level, in line with regulators elsewhere. The European Food Safety Authority in 2006 set a tolerable daily intake (TDI) level for BPA of 50 micrograms/kg body weight/day - but stressed that current exposure levels were just 30 per cent of the TDI. Industry Can makers insist that there is insufficient evidence to show that the chemical is a health risk given the current exposure levels. Robert R. Budway, president of the US Can Manufacturers Institute, whose members account for around 80 per cent of all the cans produced there, told FoodProductionDaily.com last year that the levels of BPA in food found during the EWG study were well below the TDI level set in Europe. "In fact, the single highest value they reported is approximately 10 times lower than the EU allows," he said at the time. But in many ways the harm has already been done: "Reduce your use of canned foods," the NTP recommends to consumers wanting to avoid BPA, adding "when possible, opt for glass, porcelain or stainless steel containers, particularly for hot food or liquids" - a recommendation that could prove highly damaging for the US can manufacturing sector if producers also start to seek alternative packaging sources. Budway said that despite the lack of concrete evidence surrounding a BPA health risk, it was likely that can makers were looking for alternative solutions, although he was "not aware of any specific cases" at the time. Meanwhile, health officials in Canada are reported to be considering declaring BPA a toxin, which could lead to its ban in food packaging - a decision that could be made as early as this week, according to press reports.

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