Canadian Government Backs BPA in Food Containers

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The Canadian government today reaffirmed the safety of bisphenol A in food packaging, upholding its 2008 stance on the controversial chemical despite banning it from baby bottles.

The chemical, better known as BPA, is used to make hard plastic containers and metal can linings.

"Based on the overall weight of evidence, the findings of the previous assessment remain unchanged and Health Canada's Food Directorate continues to conclude that current dietary exposure to BPA through food packaging uses is not expected to pose a health risk to the general population, including newborns and young children," Health Canada's Bureau of Chemical Safety wrote in its report.

"To be clear, no assessment is ever 'final,'" the agency said in a statement. "Health Canada will continue to monitor the latest information around exposure to BPA and the safety of its use as a food packaging material."

BPA made headlines in 2008 when it was found to leach out of plastic when heated. Studies by the Canadian government at the time concluded the chemical was "not expected to pose a health risk to the general population, including newborns and young children."

Two years later, however, the country declared the chemical "toxic" and banned it from baby bottles on the basis that, when heated, they might leach levels of BPA that are harmful to infants.

"Canada was the first country in the world to take action on bisphenol A by proposing a series of measures to reduce BPA exposure to newborns and infants," Health Canada said. "It is important to note that this action was taken on a precautionary basis due to the uncertainty raised in some experimental studies relating to the potential effects of low levels of bisphenol A."

But the precautionary move set off a chain reaction. Under consumer pressure, U.S. companies voluntarily pulled BPA from baby bottles and sippy cups. And the U.S. Food and Drug Administration made the ban official in June, even though the human health risks of dietary BPA exposure remain unclear.

"The FDA ban of BPA in baby bottles is not based on definitive scientific studies," said Dr. Robert Brent, professor of pediatrics, radiology and pathology at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia. "The country is bordering on lunacy from the exaggerated fear of chemicals."

Laboratory studies in cells and animals have linked BPA to cancer, infertility and diabetes. And just three weeks ago, a study of more than 2,800 U.S. children and teens found those with high urinary levels of BPA were more likely to be obese.

"Our study can't identify obesity as being caused by BPA. But in the context of increasing evidence from experimental studies, it raises further concern," said study author Dr. Leonardo Trasande, an associate professor of pediatrics and environmental medicine at the NYU School of Medicine.

The FDA admits it "sees substantial uncertainties with respect to the overall interpretation of many published studies, and, particularly, their potential implications for human health effects of BPA exposure," according to a statement. But the agency said it will consider Trasande's study in its "ongoing evaluation of the safety of BPA."

The new report updates Health Canada's 2008 BPA risk assessment with data from six Canadian studies conducted in the past four years. And although it reaffirms the government's stance on the safety of BPA -- that it is "not expected to represent a health risk" -- Canada will "continue to support the development of alternatives to using BPA in food can linings and will prioritize the review of these new materials as they are developed," according to the statement.

The North American Metal Packaging Alliance, a Washington, D.C.-based industry trade group, hopes the report will reassure U.S. consumers.

"Today's determination should put to rest once and for all any doubts as to where the Canadian government stands regarding the safety of BPA in food packaging," NAMPA chairman John Rost said in a statement. "Health Canada's assessment is based on actual exposure among all age groups from real-life food and beverage products, and should provide reassurance to consumers everywhere that BPA in food packaging is safe."

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