The decision has provoked fiercely diverse reactions – with industry groups backing the move while pro-ban campaigners claimed that trade interests had been placed above children’s health.
Lawmakers finally rejected the bill on Tuesday after a legislative tussle that lasted more than a year. The measure was passed in the State Assembly in July 2010 and the Senate 13 months earlier. But under US law it needed to be given final ratification by the Senate concurrence vote. The final ballot saw the bill defeated by 19-18 – with two Senate members who had previously voted in favour of the ban absent on medical grounds, said sponsor Senator Fran Pavley (D-Santa Monica).
Bill SB797 would have banned the chemical from food packaging, baby bottles or sippy cups for children aged three and under by January 1, 2012 and infant formula containers by July 1, 2012.
Trade association the American Chemistry Council (ACC) welcomed the vote saying that decisions on such scientific issues as the safety of BPA should be made by regulatory authorities.
"We agree with legislators in California who stated that chemical issues of this type are best addressed by the state’s own Green Chemistry Initiate and by the federal government’s regulatory authorities,” said Steven G. Hentges, executive directive of the body’s Polycarbonate/BPA Global Group. “Decisions regarding the safety of food-packaging materials should be made by regulatory experts based on the best available information and solid scientific evaluation. In its statements in January of 2010, the FDA reiterated that BPA is not proven to harm adults or children, but the agency called for more research and we support the FDA’s (Food and Drug Administration) ongoing review of BPA.”
Dirty tricks campaign?
But politicians, as well as health and environmental activists in favour of outlawing the substance condemned the outcome – accusing the chemical and pharmaceutical industries of waging "an expensive and shamefully deceptive lobbying campaign".
Sen Pavley said industry lobbyists had told lawmakers that food production plants in the state owned by the likes of General Mills would close even though such facilities do not produce any baby food or baby products. Other charges included campaigners for formula companies claiming that alternative products weren’t available and a ban on BPA would cause a formula shortage. Industry representatives also allegedly sent direct mail shots claiming that a BPA ban would be too costly for lower-income families and deprive consumers of access to canned goods, said the senator, adding she believed that all the claims were untrue.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) said the vote represented a "great loss" for the health of California’s children.
“Once again we see children’s health sacrificed to the cold altar of money and influence,” said Renée Sharp, director of EWG’s California office.
BPA is used in the manufacture of polycarbonate baby bottles and the epoxy linings of food and beverage cans. Hundreds of studies have raised concerns about serious health problems posed by exposure to the substance although most global food safety agencies believe it to be safe.