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BPA versus the FDA

BPA Verses FDA

If the addict’s first challenge is to overcome denial, one might wonder just what sort of addiction the FDA suffers from–given the agency’s continued denial of the fact that the plastic additive, bisphenol A (BPA), causes serious health problems.

On the very same day that a new study confirmed yet more frightening evidence that BPA causes far-reaching health complications, the FDA reiterated its insistence that the chemical is perfectly safe. The new study, published in The Journal of the American Medical Association a few days ago, assessed 1400 people 18 to 74. The subjects who had the highest levels of BPA in their urine had nearly three times the incidence of heart disease and two-and-a-half times the incidence of diabetes compared to those with the lowest levels. The study also found that high levels of BPA correlated with abnormal levels of three liver enzymes.

Current federal regulations do set guidelines for the amount of BPA considered “safe,” but the so-called safe level exceeds the highest levels found in the subjects in this study — by a country mile. According to an article in US News and World Report, “BPA levels that are slightly elevated but still just one-fifth the safe dose limit established by the Food and Drug Administration trigger an alarming release of insulin in the pancreatic cells of mice — and higher levels lead to pre-diabetes or insulin resistance.”

Disturbing as this latest study is, it’s just one in a line-up of literally hundreds of studies confirming that BPA is deadly, harmful stuff. Just a few weeks ago, I reported on research that had found BPA affects brain structure and brain function in monkeys. In that same blog, I mentioned that over 150 peer-reviewed studies have linked BPA to issues including cancer, Alzheimer’s, Down syndrome, obesity, diabetes, and developmental and reproductive problems. And as I said in that blog, “the weight of evidence hasn’t stirred the FDA to budge from its position that the stuff is safe enough to leave on the shelves.” In an earlier blog (October, 2008), I mentioned that 95-percent of all baby bottles on the market today contain the chemical, which is especially frightening considering that infants are even more vulnerable to the effects. And BPA has been found in the urine of 90% of the population.

Apparently, the latest study also hasn’t stirred the FDA to revise its stance on BPA, but many government representatives are beginning to notice that something is very wrong with the picture. Representative Rosa DeLauro, who chairs the House Subcommittee overseeing the FDA, said after the latest study, “For the FDA to determine that BPA is safe for use in baby bottles is perplexing and dangerous. It is time for the FDA to allow science to guide its decision-making process.” (Makes you wonder what she means by science guiding their decision making process, doesn’t it?)

The Consumer’s Union has called for a BPA ban; the National Toxicology Program has put out a paper asserting that the chemical might pose a threat to infants; and Dr. Anila Jacob of the Environmental Working Group, said of the just released JAMA study, “This is a human study that really calls into question FDA’s assertion that BPA is safe.”

The clamor of criticism has extended to the scientific community, where many question the FDA’s decision to use two industry-funded rodent studies to support their insistence that BPA is safe, while ignoring the dozens and dozens of studies conducted by reputable scientific bodies worldwide that say otherwise.

“The FDA is ignoring all of this research,” says Frederick vom Saal of the University of Missouri, “While it has been doing that, Americans have been at risk.” He insists that the studies the FDA relies on are flawed and useless. (Again, makes you wonder why the FDA would do such a thing.)

Meanwhile, Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa sent a letter to the FDA asking why it chose to honor industry-funded studies. In his letter, he noted that “much of the research rejected by the FDA was paid for by the National Institutes of Health,” and he asked the FDA to provide copies of all communication with the American Chemistry Council, which funded one of the studies the FDA relies on. (Wouldn’t we all just love to see copies of those communications?)

But in spite of all the eyebrow-raising regarding the FDA’s reticence to limit BPA, Laura Tarantino, an FDA spokesperson, held firm. “Right now,” she said, “our tentative conclusion is that [BPA is] safe, so we’re not recommending any change in habits” Predictably, the National Chemistry Council had an equally specious reaction to the latest JAMA study, saying that it had substantial limitations, and calling it flawed and inconclusive.

Any reasonable person would have to be questioning whose interests the FDA is actually serving in this issue: the interests of the public, or the interests of the chemical industry? Unfortunately, the answer in this case, looks less than encouraging. Then again, when dealing with addicts, the answers rarely are.