Scientists slam EFSA over bisphenol A, call to curb exposure

By Rory Harrington

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags European food safety Bisphenol a

Hundreds of studies providing “overwhelming scientific evidence” of the harm caused by bisphenol A (BPA) are being dismissed by regulatory agencies because they don’t conform with the outdated safety test guideline authorities insist on using.

This is the verdict delivered as part of a stinging attack on the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) by scores of scientists and non-governmental organisations as they called on the body to reduce human exposure to the chemical – particularly in vulnerable groups such as pregnant women and young children.

But EFSA rejected the allegations, saying the sole criteria it used to select studies on which to base its conclusions had always been the scientific quality of the research and its relevance to human health risks. The body told that it “assesses the scientific merits of each study individually, regardless of how it is funded and whether or not it complies with established international guidelines​”.


Some 19 scientific experts and 41 NGOs from across the globe made the plea in a letter to the European food safety watchdog as it prepares to present its opinion on BPA early next month. It said reducing BPA exposure was both “scientifically sound and in the best interest of public health”.

BPA is used in the manufacture of polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins used in food can linings. Its continued use in food contact materials has provoked heated debate, with countries such as France and Denmark unilaterally banning its use in products for those aged under three years.

The letter, drafted by Prof. Fredrick vom Saal, Curators Professor of Biological Sciences, University of Missouri-Columbia and Breast Cancer UK, said a significant body of research published over the last 15 years had “highlighted potential adverse health effects associated with BPA exposures, at internal doses relevant to levels of biologically active BPA found in humans”. ​It added that human bio-monitoring studies have shown that the vast majority of people in developed countries are exposed to Bisphenol-A.

Only a few studies had backed the chemical as being completely safe, and many of these had been criticised by academics, added the signatories, which included Benson Akingbemi, Associate Professor, Auburn University, Prof. Dr Ibrahim Chahoud, Berlin University and Prof. Ana Soto, of Tufts University, School of Medicine.

While the group said it welcomed EFSA’s recent decision to consider hundreds of new studies in its latest review, the letter was scathing in how it believed the body had “relied on a small number of studies” ​to in previous opinions that said the chemical posed no health threat to humans at the permitted doses.

EFSA dismissed the charge and said that, as in arriving at its previous opinions, the latest review would examine hundreds of studies from a wide range of sources.

Outdated guidelines?

Responding to the letter, Prof. vom Saal added that regulatory agencies persisted in using out of date testing guidelines that explicitly excluded modern research approaches.

“At the heart of the debate over BPA lies an outdated set of guidelines used by regulatory agencies that are based on approaches to evaluating the safety of chemicals established over 50 years ago,”​ he said.

He added that 21st century research approaches that had provided “overwhelming scientific evidence of harm in hundreds of published reports​” were being rejected “because they do not conform to the outdated testing guidelines.”

Prof vom Saal concluded: “This has left regulatory agencies to rely entirely on industry-funded research that used ‘approved’ testing methods that are crude and insensitive, and it is not surprising that 100 per cent of these industry-funded studies conclude that BPA causes no harm.”

The professor backed the view expressed in the latter that any “objective and comprehensive review of the scientific literature will lead to the conclusion that action is necessary to reduce the levels of BPA exposure”, ​especially in high risk groups such as pregnant women and young children.

“The only rational path for European regulators is to take decisive action to reduce human exposure to BPA. The overwhelming nature of the total scientific evidence mandates this as a priority,”​ he said.

A spokesman for the food safety agency said: “As with EFSA’s previous opinions on BPA several hundred studies from a wide range of sources are being taken into account.

“The studies on which EFSA bases its conclusions are selected according to the scientific quality of the research which is carried out and its relevance for human risk assessment, looking at factors such as the route of exposure studied, the number of doses applied and the number and type of animals used.

“EFSA assesses the scientific merits of each study individually, regardless of how it is funded and whether or not it complies with established international guidelines.”

Related topics Food Safety & Quality

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