If your food packaging contains the chemical BPA, the label will have to say so if a newly proposed bill is passed.
This week Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) introduced a Senate bill, S. 1124, that would require any food packaging that contains the endocrine disrupter bisphenol A, or BPA, to note its presence on the label.
People have a “right to make informed decisions about the everyday products they purchase,” Feinstein said in a press release. The bill would require the following unappetizing label: “This food packaging contains BPA, an endocrine-disrupting chemical.”
BPA, which has been the subject of public and scientific scrutiny for several years, is known to disrupt the endocrine systems of both humans and wildlife, including fish and amphibians. The chemical has been used since the 1960s to make plastic for various food containers such as baby bottles and can linings. But it first gained widespread attention in 2008 for its potential harmful effects on fetuses, infants, and children. Since then, it has been banned from baby bottles, and Nalgene has started making its popular water bottles without the chemical, as have many other manufacturers. Nevertheless, BPA still remains in many of the food packagings it was first used for; most canned foods still use it as a liner to prevent corrosion of the metal.
Unsurprisingly, the trade group American Chemistry Council opposes the bill. “This legislation is unnecessary, as the consensus of major government agencies around the world… supports the safety of BPA in food contact materials,” the group said in a statement. A study published just this week, however, linked higher BPA levels to obesity in 9-12 year-old girls. And there is extensive research linking BPA to a variety of negative health effects, including increased risk of breast cancer, prostate cancer, and type II diabetes.
The bill, which is co-sponsored by Senators Blumenthal (D-CT) and King (I-ME), wouldn’t restrict the use of BPA; it would simply require that anything containing BPA say so on its label, thus allowing consumers to make their own choices. However, with increased consumer awareness of the ubiquity of BPA, there might be more pressure on food companies to use safer alternatives. And less BPA exposure is good news for humans and wildlife alike.
Yet even as the health concerns of BPA have come to light, there’s concern that the chemicals that replace it could pose similar, new, or greater health risks. That’s why it’s vital that manufacturers be forced to show that their products are safe. New legislation introduced in May, the Chemical Safety Improvement Act, would update the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act. But some environmentalists say it doesn’t go far enough in addressing chemical safety concerns. It tasks the EPA, not industry, with proving whether or not a given chemical is toxic, for instance, and it could weaken strong state and local toxin regulations.
While the BPA labeling bill is undoubtedly a step in the right direction, we still need stronger, robust legislation that makes the chemical industry and EPA share the task of determining which chemicals are safe.
Heard about endocrine disruptors? They’re in everything from skin moisturizers to skillets, from raincoats to water bottles. And they’re wreaking havoc on living things. By Susan McGrath