How America became obsessed with BPA
What the Journal Sentinel didn't report
The European Union
The European Food Safety Authority [EFSA] is the European agency is the European Union’s equivalent to the Food and Drug Administration, and is charged with the scientific assessment of food safety. In 2006, EFSA published its risk assessment of BPA – “Opinion of the Scientific Panel on Food Additives, Flavourings, Processing Aids and Materials in Contact with Food on a request from the Commission related to 2,2-BIS(4-HYDROXYPHENYL)PROPANE (Bisphenol A)” [ref] It was conducted by 21 scientists from across the EU.
EFSA took the exact opposite position to the Journal Sentinel reporters, junking much of the “independent” research that provide the grounds for the paper’s claims of regulatory mismanagement in the U.S. As EFSA told STATS, “the scientists considered that many of the studies indicating low dose effects of BPA were contradictory and not well conducted.”
The European parliament could have overturned the risk assessment’s conclusions (as it has with other risk assessments), but it didn’t. This – and other member states separate risk analyses – is the key reason that BPA is not a public health controversy in Europe.
And yet, the EFSA risk assessment only received a passing mention in the Journal Sentinel’s 30,000 plus words of reporting, being alluded to twice and cited just once. On October 30, the paper quoted from an FDA press release:
"Consumers should know that, based on all available evidence, the present consensus among regulatory agencies in the United States, Canada, Europe, and Japan is that current levels of exposure to BPA through food packaging do not pose an immediate health risk to the general population, including infants and babies,"
The same quote is repeated in an article on October 29. On August 18, the Journal Sentinel noted
“However, the European Union and the European Food Safety Authority, which both recently reviewed the research on bisphenol A, have deemed the chemical safe.”
It doesn’t appear to have occurred to the journalists or editors at the paper to ask, why has the EU, which regulates chemicals according to the precautionary principle (meaning that substantial proof of actual risk doesn’t have to be determined in order to ban a substance), concluded that BPA is safe, when we are telling readers that it is highly dangerous?
Indeed, as already noted, EFSA found BPA to be safe enough to recommend raising the reference dose (rfd – the amount of a substance that a person can safely ingest on a daily basis over a lifetime, known as “tolerable daily intake” in Europe) by a factor of five.
EFSA’s 2008 update, Norway’s Scientific Committee on Food Safety and neurotoxicity, Denmark’s Environment Protection Agency
Though the Journal Sentinel reported that BPA was linked to neurological disorders and neurotoxicity (April 30, May 19, October 23, 29, November 16, 18 of 2008), and that the National Toxicology Program “found some concern for the neurodevelopment of young children, infants and fetuses” (October 23, 24, 2008), the paper did not note that EFSA rejected this evidence in an update to its 2006 risk assessment in July 2008.
“EFSA also took into account the recent report published by one of the institutes of the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (EC, 2008) which concluded that due to the low confidence in the reliability of the developmental neurotoxicity studies and the lack of consistency in the results of behavioural testing, no conclusions can be drawn from these studies.”
EFSA also cited an evaluation of four studies on developmental neurotoxicity by the Norwegian Scientific Committee on Food Safety. The panel concluded that
“the four studies suffer from major shortcomings and do not provide sufficient evidence for setting a robust lower NOAEL for BPA than the current EFSA NOAEL of 5 mg/kg bw/day.”
(The panel recommended further study in light of the NTP decision to express “some concern” over neurotoxicity based on this research).
Denmark – no slouch on environmental protection – was also concerned about the gap between EFSA and the NTP on neurodevelopment and toxicity, and its Environment Protection Agency conducted a separate investigation with outside experts on the risk to infants. The conclusion was that the EFSA decision to reject these studies was correct.
In light of repeated criticism in the Journal Sentinel and elsewhere that the FDA wasn’t doing enough to protect the public from BPA, it is noteworthy to find European environmental agencies – which operate under more risk-sensitive protocols – concluding that the U.S. was being too risk averse. This would probably surprise, if not shock, many American readers along with those politicians who fear the FDA is failing to protect the public. B ut such news never made the news; instead, the Journal Sentinel focused on what Canada thought of BPA.