Thursday, May 15, 2008
On the same day that the FDA decided to announce a recall of aged pepper cheese from Sweetwater Valley Farm because it was contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes (an organism which can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems), it also announced that the FDA sees no reason to tell consumers to stop using products such as baby bottles made with BPA. An odd dynamic considering BPA has been linked to cancer and brain damage amongst others health hazards for decades, and was understood to be mimic estrogen as early as the 1930's (part of a long and ugly history since its advent 120 yrs ago). I want to know what it took for that cheese to be recalled. Really....what is the power of cheese?
Norris Alderson, the FDA's associate commissioner for science, said although the regulatory agency is reviewing safety concerns about the chemical bisphenol A, or BPA, "a large body of available evidence" shows that products such as liquid or food containers made with it are safe. Alderson said he heads an FDA task force that is reviewing safety concerns concerning BPA. He said although this review is ongoing, the FDA has no reason to recommend that consumers stop using products made with BPA. He also interestingly noted that similar products made without BPA are available. But these reviews are nothing new - similar assessments were taking place as early as 1996. So what gives folks? We know when to pull cheese off the market but not chemicals that dozens of years of studies have shown to be dangerous?
Just last month, after yet another review (this one 18-month's long), the National Institutes of Health's toxicology program concluded there was "some concern" that BPA could be harming the development of children's brains and reproductive organs. But Marilyn Wind of the Consumer Product Safety Commission's directorate of health sciences acknowledged that small amounts of BPA might be released when plastic or resin broke down. Once BPA enters food or water, she said, its regulation becomes the responsibility of the FDA and falls outside her commission's jurisdiction.
The recent announcement does not go without critics in the halls of politics. Some senators flat out faulted the FDA and the Consumer Product Safety Commission for failing to protect U.S. consumers from BPA as well as phthalates, a class of chemicals used to improve flexibility in plastics. The Senate in March passed legislation that would impose a nationwide ban on phthalates in children's toys and products.
"The FDA could hardly be doing less," Democratic Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts told Alderson.
Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, said the FDA was "looking the other way" on safety concerns about BPA. "Parents always err on the side of caution when it comes to their kids' health. We think that the law should do the same," he added.
Schumer, Kerry and other Democratic senators in April introduced a bill to ban BPA in children's products. It also would direct the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to study health effects of BPA in children and adults.
It seems like this game of cat and mouse with the agencies, and their persistent passing off of responsibility onto one another is just escalating. A long history of enabling industry to benefit at the price of public health is clearly still continuing with little hope in sight. Perhaps the difference this time around is that that we are talking about it and we can contribute to the most robust global information pathway to educate consumers. Now, with the information public, we can't say we didn't know. It 's up to us, as consumer/investors to choose what companies and products we are backing, with every dollar spent. Make your voice heard and buy only BPA free products, until policies or the economics force manufacturers to phase them out altogether.