In its December 7, 2011, press release, the activist group, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) wrote, "The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has committed to decide by March 31, 2012 whether a chemical that causes brain damage in developing babies, infants and young children should be banned from use in packaging for food and drinks."
Well, last week, the FDA came out with its verdict: NRDC's petition declined. The controversy should be settled: Bisphenol A (BPA) is safe for use in its current food packaging and contact applications. Ban denied. The risk-averse FDA would not have left a product on the market if it were dangerous, as NRDC has been claiming.
This FDA verdict comes in a direct response to NRDC's 2008 petition to ban BPA in food packaging and food contact applications. In 2010, after the FDA failed to act on the NRDC's petition, the NRDC sued the FDA in an attempt to force the Agency into making a final decision on BPA safety. As part of the FDA-NRDC settlement issued by the court in December 2011, the FDA was required to respond to the NRDC's petition by releasing a final decision, not a "tentative response," on whether it would consider a ban on BPA by March 31, 2012.
For months ahead of the March 31 deadline, the NRDC positioned the FDA's verdict as the be-all and end-all ruling on BPA. NRDC executive director Dr. Sarah Janssen wrote that, "…we are glad FDA is finally going to make a decision BPA in food packaging."
But, after months of political posturing and fundraising on the part of the NRDC to fuel momentum for their petition, the side of science has finally won out— the NRDC has been flatly rejected by the FDA.
At this point, this issue should be laid to rest. The federal government has spent tens of millions of dollars investing in research on BPA, already one of the most well-studied chemicals on earth, and the FDA has squandered it's limited resources on multiple safety assessments, including the one litigated by the NRDC. And yet, despite the FDA's unequivocal denial of the NRDC's petition, it is now spinning what for them is really bad news.
The "D" in NRDC ought to stand for Denial. In a press release, the NRDC cites their defeat as evidence for "the need for a major overhaul of how the government protects us against dangerous chemicals." Thus they suggest that this really isn't about the (Obama) FDA's exhaustive (yet continuing) review of the science, but instead is simply the result of weak laws. And the NRDC alleges that "the agency has failed to protect our health and safety ¬ – in the face of scientific studies that continue to raise disturbing questions about the long-term effects of BPA exposures, especially in fetuses, babies and young children.
This is a grievous example of the NRDC yet again manipulating the story to continue to advocate for a ban that has been shown once again to be scientifically unfounded. Since 2008, the NRDC has time after time used shoddy research on BPA to advocate for a ban on BPA, meanwhile minimizing the importance of regulatory agency assessments as well as truly pivotal and rigorous research on BPA conducted by credentialed scientists, including scientists at FDA. For years, this strategy has served the NRDC's interests well; alarming consumers about a scary chemical can be quite lucrative. The NRDC now claims to have 1.3 million "members." But while it rakes in contributions as a result of the BPA scare, its antics are costing consumers millions, via higher priced "BPA free" products, unnecessary studies, and more bloated regulatory government. What's worse, consumers have nothing to show for it.
Enough is enough. The FDA has spoken. This verdict is clear and consistent with the FDA's previous decisions, and with the most recent and rigorous research conducted by the FDA's own scientists.
At this point, it is finally time for the NRDC to stop this BPA escapade. But it isn't in their interest to stop. At least not until the public, the media, and the very regulators NRDC has sued let them know it's time to find a different cause. Perhaps one that'll actually benefit society.
Jeff Stier is a Senior Fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research in Washington, D.C., and heads its Risk Analysis Division