U.S. Denies Request to Ban Chemical in Food Packaging

Cans of Soup on Production Line
Cans of soup move down a production line before being packaged at the Campbell plant in Sacramento, California, U.S., on Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2010. Campbell Soup Co. is among food makers phasing out BPA in their packaging in response to consumer concerns. Photographer: Ken James/Bloomberg

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration rejected a request to ban a contested chemical from cans and other packaging because opponents didn’t provide enough data to support a rule change.

Continued study of bisphenol A, known as BPA, including completion of federal studies currently in progress, is the most appropriate course of action, the agency said in an e-mail today. The chemical has been used in epoxy linings since the 1960s to extend the shelf life of canned foods and beverages.

Manufacturers of baby bottles and cups have stopped using polycarbonate containing BPA in response to consumer concerns it may affect children. Campbell Soup Co. is among food makers phasing out the use of BPA, while beverage companies such as Coca-Cola Co. have kept the chemical, saying it’s safe.

“The information provided in your petition was not sufficient to persuade FDA, at this time, to initiate rulemaking to prohibit the use of BPA in human food and food packaging,” David H. Horsey, an acting associate FDA commissioner, said today in a letter to the Natural Resources Defense Council.

NRDC, a New York-based environmental advocacy group, petitioned the FDA in 2008 to ban its use in food and drinks packaging. BPA, produced by combining phenol and acetone, mimics the female hormone estrogen and may affect the brain and prostate gland in fetuses and young children, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Quickly Processed

A ban would hurt profits at can-maker Silgan Holdings Inc. and others in the $60 billion industry, Ghansham Panjabi, an analyst at Robert W. Baird & Co., said before the FDA announcement. The biggest U.S. producer of BPA is Saudi Basic Industries Corp., followed by Bayer AG and Dow Chemical Co.

About 4.7 million metric tons of BPA valued at about $8 billion will be produced this year, according to a report by GlobalData, a London-based publisher of business intelligence. Three times as much BPA goes into polycarbonate plastics, used in items ranging from plastic bottles to DVDs, as is used in epoxy resins.

The FDA plans to complete an updated safety review of BPA this year and will make any changes to the chemical’s status based on the science, Douglas Karas, an agency spokesman, said in an e-mail. People of all ages metabolize and rid their bodies of BPA faster than rodents used in studies, he said.

Federally funded research confirms that the human body quickly processes and eliminates BPA, making it “very unlikely” that the chemical causes harm, the American Chemistry Council, a Washington-based industry group, said in a statement today.

‘Dangerously Off Course’

Sarah Janssen, a senior scientist at the NRDC, said the FDA’s denial of a ban shows “a major overhaul” of chemical regulation is needed. The Environmental Working Group, a Washington-based advocacy group, said consumers can no longer trust the FDA to protect the health of their families.

“The agency has veered dangerously off course,” Jane Houlihan, the group’s senior vice president for research, said today in a statement. “Pregnant women and new parents should no longer think FDA has their backs.”

The North American Metal Packaging Alliance, a Washington-based industry group, praised the FDA’s decision.

“A ban without conclusive scientific evidence of risk would compromise the safety of canned foods and beverages,” John Rost, the alliance’s chairman, said in an e-mailed statement.

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