By Gregory B. Hladky
12:55 PM EDT, March 20, 2013
In 2009, Connecticut banned it from baby food, infant formula cans and bottles, and reusable food and beverage containers. In 2011, this state stopped its use in the thermal paper receipts you get at the gas pump and elsewhere.
It's 2013, so the battle over Bisphenol-A must be on again. And it is, pitting furiously serious health activists and environmentalists against the determined honchos of the beverage and food industries.
This time, lawmakers are trying to decide whether all products sold in this state containing the widely used industrial chemical commonly known as BPA should be labeled, so consumers know it's in what they're buying.
And by "widely used," we mean in everything from water bottles and soda containers to the cans used to preserve tomatoes and tuna fish.
France has declared that BPA will be banned from all food containers by 2015. Canada was the first government in the world, in 2008, to label BPA as dangerous, banning it from baby bottles, and further Canadian action is expected. The European Union has also prohibited the chemical from being used in baby bottles. At least 11 other states in the U.S. in addition to Connecticut have approved some form of ban on BPA in the containers used to feed babies.
Several states are now considering the sort of labeling requirement that's in Connecticut's latest bill.
"We're pretty well knowledgeable about BPA," says state Sen. Ed Meyer, a Guilford Democrat who is co-chair of the legislature's Environment Committee, "and I don't think there's any great doubt about BPA — it is toxic."
Except that dudes like Republican state Rep. Larry Miller of Stratford, who sits on Meyer's environment panel, disagree completely.
"There is overwhelming evidence... that this stuff is not harmful to humans," says Miller. He was one of 12 environment committee members who voted against the BPA labeling bill earlier this month. They lost because 16 lawmakers voted for the legislation.
That fairly close vote (which was not strictly along party lines) was the result of a major-league lobbying job by the food industry, according to Meyer. "The retailers did a good job of saying this would be an expense that would be passed on to consumers," he says.
They also provided their own experts to counter claims about how terrible BPA is when it's used in containers.
Julie E. Goodman, for example, is an epidemiologist and toxicologist at an environmental consulting firm and a teacher at the Harvard School of Public Health. She offered testimony at a legislative hearing citing the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's finding that "the scientific evidence at this time does not suggest that the very low levels of human exposure to BPA through the diet are unsafe."
"I evaluated how many servings of several different canned foods a child or adult would have to eat to exceed safe levels in animals," Goodman told lawmakers. "A child would have to consume 214,286 servings of tuna, and an adult would have to consume 1 million servings of tuna, every day to exceed the safe level in animals."
That's a whole mess of tuna fish.
For the prosecution, there was the testimony of Pamela Puchalski, project coordinator for the Connecticut Council on Occupational Safety and Health.
"The science against BPA is clear," she says. "It is an endocrine disrupter that can mimic and affect our naturally occurring hormones. Its presence has been linked to a variety of reproductive disorders, behavioral and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorders, obesity, insulin resistance, diabetes, and cancers of the breast and prostate."
And that's a whole mess of really nasty potential consequences.
For folks like Meyer and the anti-BPA activists the risks are simply too great to be ignored. They cite reports by the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control that BPA does leach into the food from containers, and that the chemical has become virtually omnipresent in the American diet.
They also argue that they're not asking to ban BPA from containers; all they want to do is give consumers the information they need to make informed choices about the products they buy.
Critics, including Miller, insist it's one hell of a lot of unnecessary overkill.
"You can't help but get some kind of toxic things in your system," Miller says. "It's just human nature."
"These [anti-BPA] scientists are just environmental alarmists," he warns.
The trouble for the food industry on this one is that Connecticut lawmakers have been hearing those BPA alarm bells for years now, and they've been taking them very seriously indeed.
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