Plastics and food

Are chemicals from plastic food containers and wrapping as safe as the industry and regulators claim or are they slowly poisoning us?
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02.Bisphenol A

BPA gets into our food via polycarbonate food containers and drink bottles, especially after repeated exposure to heat and detergent in a dishwasher.

The epoxy resins used to line cans are another significant source. Our US sister organisation, the Consumers Union, recently tested 19 leading brands of canned food and found BPA in almost all of them. One of Australia’s leading manufacturers of canned foods, SPC Ardmona, told CHOICE that an industry survey in 2002 found no BPA in their products. But this report was a study commissioned by the canned food industry that was not publicly released.

BPA is rapidly eliminated from the body, but because of continuous exposure most of us have detectable levels of BPA in our body tissue. Typical levels, however, are well below the daily upper limit of safe exposure set by the US Food and Drug Administration and European Food Safety Authority . A number of independent scientists recently expressed concern that this limit is based on experiments done in the 1980s, rather than on the hundreds of more recent animal and laboratory studies suggesting we could be at risk from much lower doses.

In 2006, an international panel of 38 experts concluded that “the wide range of adverse effects of low doses of BPA in laboratory animals … is a great cause for concern with regard to the potential for similar adverse effects in humans”. A major US study has since identified a direct link between exposure to low levels of BPA and increased risk of diabetes and heart disease.

Not surprisingly, the plastics industry strenuously refutes these findings and continues to assert that BPA is harmless at the low levels to which we’re regularly exposed in our food. But while the evidence is far from conclusive, there’s now far too much of it to be ignored. The underlying science is sound and the potential for such effects is real. Most experts agree that more research is needed, and in the US, $14 million has been committed to research over the next two years on the health effects of low-level exposure to BPA. Meanwhile, the Canadian government is taking steps to prohibit importation and sale of polcarbonate baby bottles.


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