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.

EFSA, which carries the scientific risk assessment on behalf of the EU, says exposure from a diet, or from a combination of sources such as a diet, dust, cosmetics and thermal paper, is considerably under the safe level, also known as the ‘tolerable daily intake’ (TDI).

BPA is a chemical compound used in the manufacture of food contact materials such as re-usable plastic tableware and can coatings. Another widespread use of BPA is in thermal paper commonly used in cash register receipts.

Residues of BPA can migrate into food and beverages and be ingested by the consumer, and other sources include thermal paper, cosmetics and dust can be absorbed through the skin and by inhalation.

Although new data have led EFSA’s experts to considerably reduce the safe level of BPA from 50 micrograms per kilogram of body weight per day to four, the highest estimates for dietary exposure, or via a combination of sources, are three to five times lower than the new TDI.

Dr Trine Husøy, a member of EFSA’s expert panel on food contact materials and Chair of its BPA working group, said the panel decided to reevaluate the safety of BPA because of the publication of a huge number of new research studies in recent years.

This led to a public consultation in early 2014, and after weighing up new scientific information on its toxic effects, the CEF Panel concluded that high doses of BPA (hundreds of times above the TDI) are likely to adversely affect the kidney and liver. It may also cause effects on the mammary gland in animals.

“Effects on the reproductive, nervous, immune, metabolic and cardiovascular systems, as well as in the development of cancer are not considered likely at present but they could not be excluded on the available evidence. So, they add to the overall uncertainty about BPA-related hazards and therefore have been considered in the assessment,” Husøy said.

EFSA last assessed dietary exposure to BPA in 2006 when less data was available. 

“With significantly more and better data, we have updated and more accurately estimated dietary exposure to BPA for all population groups. As a result, we now know that dietary exposure is four to fifteen times lower than previously estimated by EFSA, depending on the age group,” Husøy added.

This time around, EFSA used new methodologies to take account of the uncertainties regarding potential health effects, exposure estimates and evaluation of risks for humans, such as analysing each uncertainty one by one, so that the expert panel was able to quantify the uncertainties.

Pressure on member states

The potential harm from BPA has been debated in several EU member states, such as Sweden, Denmark and France. On 1 January 2010, France banned the use of BPA in products that come into direct contact with food for babies and young children, like feeding bottles. An EU-wide ban followed in January 2011. From 1 January 2015, France has introduced a new law, banning the use of BPA in all food packaging. 

>> Read: French government and plastics lobby clash over Bisphenol A

In light of EFSA’s conclusion’s, PlasticsEurope said in a statement that the French restriction on BPA is disproportionate and should be withdrawn.

“The fact that any realistic exposure to BPA is well below even the conservative safety threshold established by EFSA shows that blanket restrictions being applied at national level, in particular in France, are unjustified and should be withdrawn,” Jasmin Bird from PlasticsEurope’s BPA group said.

“This EFSA conclusion on BPA should be used as the basis for consistent and harmonised European food safety regulation, and should be respected by all member states,” Bird continued.

When the results of a long-term research by the US National Toxicology Program are available for evaluation in two to three years, EFSA will once again reconsider the temporary TDI.

Lisette van Vliet, senior policy advisor at the Health & Environment Alliance (HEAL), commented:

"In its opinion of the negative health effects of BPA, EFSA focused on the liver, kidney, and mammary glands. It considers effects on reproductive, brain, immune, metabolic and cardiovascular systems or on development of cancer are unlikely, but it can’t exclude them. But it says that there is no risk for people at current levels of exposure, without having explored what would be the case if those other effects aside from liver, kidney and mammary would turn out to be correct. Is this logical? It seems to be the equivalent of saying “My lost car keys are definitely not on the ground of the parking lot”, without making it clear that you’ve only looked under the parking lot lamppost."  

The endocrine system is a network of glands that regulates the release and the level of hormones in the body.

Hormones are the body's chemical messengers, which are essential for the metabolism, growth and development, sleep and mood. A tiny amount of a hormone is all that is needed to stimulate the body into action.

The endocrine system is complex, and its efficient functioning depends on a variety of biological and physiological factors. There is evidence linking Bisphenol A to disturbances in this system. 

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