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11/12/2016

EFSA wants to review the chemical BPA, again

Science & Policymaking

EFSA wants to review the chemical BPA, again

The European Food Safety Authority HQ

[Corporate Europe Observatory/Flickr]

A new report on the chemical compound Bisphenol A (BPA) has forced the EFSA, the EU’s food safety watchdog, to review the effects of the chemical on human health once more.

EFSA, which carries out scientific risk assessment on behalf of the EU and advises the European Commission, said in a statement on Tuesday (26 April) that the agency wants to look into new scientific evidence together with a working group of international experts.

Following a request by the Ministry of Health in the Netherlands, EFSA will look into the findings published in a report by the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM).

The RIVM report concludes that according to two studies, the BPA has a toxic effect on the immune system and advises consumers to reduce their exposure to the chemical.

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BPA, together with other chemicals, is used in the manufacturing of plastics and resins. It is found in many everyday objects, like cutlery, kettles, coffee machines, food mixers, food packaging and bottles. BPA also helps to preserve the flavour of foods and protect them against contamination from microorganisms.

For many years, BPA has been scrutinised following concerns that it may effect the reproductive, nervous, immune, metabolic and cardiovascular systems, as well as causing cancer.

Only last year, EFSA published a re-evaluation of BPA following a public consultation, but concluded that the chemical ”poses no health risk to consumers of any age group at current exposure levels”.

However, the agency did lower its recommendations for ‘tolerable daily intake’ (TDI) from 50 micrograms per kilogram of body weight per day to four.

The potential harm from BPA has been debated in several member states, including Sweden, Denmark and France.

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On 1 January 2010, France banned the use of BPA in products that come into direct contact with food for babies and young children, such as feeding bottles. An EU-wide ban followed in January 2011.

On 1 January 2015, France introduced a new law, banning the use of BPA in all food packaging.

A week ago, Danish researchers criticised EFSA’s new TDI recommendations, saying that the safety limits have been set too high.

In experiments with rats, researchers from the Technological University of Denmark found that even small to moderate daily doses of BPA can cause reduced sperm quality, higher weight and altered breast development and behavior.

“Our studies back other studies which have found that there is a need for a lower safety level for Bisphenol A to protect against the hormone-affecting impact of this chemical,” Ulla Hass, who led the university research, told the broadcaster DR.

The biggest problem for toxicologists and scientists right now appears to be, according to Hass, that some chemicals like BPA affects people differently; some may be at risk even with small doses, while others won’t be affected at all by very high doses. This puts into question  traditional scientific ways of studying chemicals and their effects, she underlined.

EU's food safety agency gives green light to Bisphenol A

The European Food Safety Authority’s (EFSA) re-evaluation of Bisphenol A (BPA) exposure and toxicity states that BPA, an endocrine disruptor, poses no health risk to consumers of any age group at current exposure levels.

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Positions

Polycarbonate/Bisphenol A-group of PlasticsEurope, said, "We note that EFSA responds to a request from the Dutch Ministry. As a general principle, the members of the PC/BPA group underline the importance of a comprehensive evaluation of all available scientific evidence as the basis for the established EU risk management process for chemicals. This is the prerequisite for ensuring a high quality standard in human risk assessment. It builds the basis for the reliable system of translating the risk assessment of chemicals into scientifically justified and effective regulatory measures for both - consumers and industry. In its opinion of January 2015 EFSA provided such a comprehensive safety assessment of BPA. A timely implementation of this EFSA opinion into relevant regulatory measures would provide the safety and reliability all partners are seeking."

Background

Bisphenol A is used primarily to make plastics. It has been in commercial use since 1957. However, the EU, and Canada have banned BPA use in baby bottles.

There is evidence linking Bisphenol A to disturbances in the human endocrine system, which is a network of glands that regulates the release and the level of hormones in the body.

EFSA has reviewed new scientific information on BPA in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2015.

Timeline

  • Summer 2016: EFSA to publish another review on the safety of Bisphenol A.
  • Summer 2016: The Commission to publish a definition of hormone-affecting chemicals (endocrine disruptors).
  • 2018: Next and last REACH registration deadline.

Further Reading

EU institutions

Press articles