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BPA in Baby Formula Cans Under Investigation in Congress

Jan 18, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP

Bisphenol-A, a toxic chemical that made news because it is used in the manufacture of baby formula cans, is getting attention from Congress.   House Democrats are investigating whether bisphenol-A—known as BPA— poses a risk to infants. U.S. regulators claim BPA is safe for children and adults.  BPA is a fairly ubiquitous chemical used in polycarbonate plastic products, including baby bottles and metal can coatings, intended to protect the food inside from the can.  According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the infant formula industry—which adheres to federal packaging guidelines—BPA is legal and safe.  Representatives John Dingell and Bart Stupak sent letters Thursday to seven companies—including Hain Celestial Group, Nestle USA, Abbott Laboratories, and Wyeth—that make baby formulations, questioning whether they use BPA in the lining of their cans and bottles.

BPA has been used to package foods for over 50 years, but consumer advocates said last year that trace amounts that leak into food could be dangerous to babies.  Concerns over BPA caused Canadian retailers to remove bottled water and other plastic containers containing BPA from store shelves last month.  The FDA is reviewing the safety of the chemical but said last November that it "sees no reason at this time to ban or otherwise restrict its use."  In a letter to FDA, Michigan Democrats Dingell and Stupak asked commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach to explain how the agency determined BPA’s safety.  "At best, the scientific community has concerns about the safety of bisphenol A," said Stupak. "Our primary goal is to protect infants from a potentially harmful chemical."

An expert panel of researchers assembled by the National Institutes of Health said last August that the chemical's "impact on human health is a concern, and more research is clearly needed."  Additional research is a good idea, according to a trade group for baby formula makers, but they stressed Thursday that regulators in the U.S. and Europe believe the amounts found in food products are not dangerous.  "Parents using infant formula should not be alarmed because the bisphenol used in infant formulas and other food packaging exists in trace amounts," said Marisa Salcines, spokeswoman for the International Formula Council. "No change in infant feeding practices are necessary at this time."

A spokesman for Wyeth said Thursday the company does not use the chemical to package any of its baby formula products.

The National Toxicology Program's Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction convened an expert panel to determine if BPA is a hazard to humans, including more sensitive developing babies. The panel concluded, based on animal studies, there is some risk as exposure to BPA causes neural and behavioral effects in children.  The American Academy of Pediatrics has no formal position.

The Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit advocacy research organization focused on public health and the environment raised concerns about BPA in plastic baby bottles and is pushing for regulation of the compound.  The group says, based on its analysis of existing research on BPA, even in very small doses, BPA is harmful and may cause a host of problems, from brain and behavioral disorders to cancer, a claim formula makers and federal regulators adamantly deny.


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