California Considers BPA Law That Would Increase Salmonella Risk

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I was at Costco yesterday and picked up some plastic containers for refrigerated food storage. “BPA FREE!” they announced on the packaging. I wondered if it was one of those things where they’d never had the chemical bisphenol A (aka BPA) in them and were just advertising that fact or whether they’d replaced the chemical with something else. Something that we’ll find out kills skin cells or something.

I thought of that when I read this absolutely fascinating piece by Henry Miller, a molecular biologist and former FDA official, about the unintended consequences of laws against BPA. Basically California is taking a break from going bankrupt by voting on a bill that would basically ban BPA. BPA is everywhere, so this law would have fairly drastic repercussions. For the last 50 years or so, every baby bottle, plastic storage container (that answers that!), and beverage container has used it. But the thing is that BPA is also used in ways you may not know. For instance, the reason why eating canned foods is so much safer now than it used to be is because containers are lined with a special epoxy called Clostridium botulinum. it keeps people from dying from salmonella. But it is also made with a small amount of BPA. Even though it’s a trace amount, it would be prohibited. And there’s no replacement for the epoxy. So a known risk of salmonella will increase in the attempt to decrease the supposed risk of BPA. We already discussed this New York Times piece from May showing that the replacements for BPA are just as bad if not worse.

Miller writes:

Many consumers have heard reports of studies in recent years purporting to show risks from BPA. In fact, such studies are not only flat-out wrong, but they were scientifically refuted in a comprehensive study released earlier this year that showed no discernable risk from BPA in normal consumer use. In research conducted by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, human volunteers consumed a diet enriched with BPA, mostly from canned foods. Scientists then collected blood and urine samples each hour and measured the amount of BPA in their bodies.

Even though the volunteers consumed more BPA than an estimated 95 percent of the American population would consume under normal circumstances, researchers were unable to detect even the presence of BPA in the majority of blood samples, let alone any deleterious effects. The study also showed that human exposure to BPA was far lower than that which led to health effects in laboratory animals.

So meticulous and conclusive was this study that Great Britain’s preeminent endocrinologist, professor Richard Sharpe of the Medical Research Council/Human Reproductive Sciences Unit at the Center for Reproductive Biology in Edinburgh, described it as “majestically scientific.”

Critics of BPA routinely condemn such findings based on the source of funding for the research. But this particular project was funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, preempting objections to the study as tainted by an association with industry.

The thing is that California has such a large population that when its legislature bans something, it can have a large effect on the national market. What a shame that we might see an increase in salmonella deaths and sicknesses, a further weakening of an already weak economy through senseless regulation, and for what?