Panel: FDA should redo its BPA risk assessment

An FDA advisory panel ruled yesterday that the Food and Drug Administration was wrong when it determined that a chemical used in baby bottles and infant formula packing is safe at current levels and the agency should redo its risk assessment.

The FDA Science Board consists of a group of scientists drawn from academia, government and industry that advises the FDA commissioner. Yesterday at a meeting in Gaithersburg, they voted unanimously to accept the report by a subcommittee which linked exposure to low doses of BPA to an increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, hyperactivity and cancer in laboratory animals and that its margin of safety was "inadequate."

Bisphenol A (BPA), has been at the centre of a controversy with consumer and environmental groups calling for it to be banned. The chemical BPA, is an ingredient in hard plastics and in the lining of many food cans and is believed to pose health risks especially for infants and children.

The panel added that should BPA be banned or not was a decision left to FDA Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach to decide. The panel also told the Science Board advisory panel that they could not say if the chemical was in fact harmful or not and whether it should be banned.

Judy Leon, agency spokeswoman said the agency would respond in writing to the Science Board's decision and the report within 30 days.

The FDA has maintained that BPA at the current levels is safe for human consumption though this stand has been called controversial as it is contrary to what more than 100 studies as well as a finding by the National Toxicology Program, part of the National Institutes of Health, have found.

The Environmental Working Group, an advocacy group, called on infant formula makers to eliminate voluntarily the use of BPA from the cans. In response Mardi Mountford, executive vice president of the International Formula Council, based in Atlanta said, "As soon as a safe alternative is identified by the chemical and packaging industry, we stand ready to bring these new containers to market as soon as they are approved by the FDA."

Major retailers, including Wal-Mart and Target, have said they would stop selling baby bottles that contain bisphenol A. John Rost, chairman of the North American Metal Packaging Manufacturing Association said, "There is no drop-in alternative to BPA" in can linings.

Diana Zuckerman, PhD, president of the National Research Center for Women and Families said, "The FDA should not draw conclusions that are biased and premature. While the FDA is deciding what to do about BPA in food containers, they should at the very least empower consumers by requiring that food and beverage containers list whether or not they contain BPA."

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