By Lyndsey Layton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 26, 2010; A13
The food industry and major business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, are threatening to withdraw support for a long-pending bill to improve food safety, saying they are upset by a proposed amendment that would ban bisphenol-A, a controversial chemical, from food and beverage containers.
The bill is the Senate version of legislation passed overwhelmingly by the House last year. It is designed to give the Food and Drug Administration vast new regulatory authority over food production and place greater responsibility on manufacturers and farmers to produce food free from contamination. It had broad bipartisan support and backing from the White House, and it was expected to come to the Senate floor before the Memorial Day recess.
But in a letter to Sens. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), the chairman and ranking minority member on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee, the business groups said last week that they oppose an amendment by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) that would ban bisphenol-A, or BPA, from food and beverage containers.
"We will not support food safety legislation that bans or phases out BPA from any food and beverage container," said Scott Faber, vice president for federal affairs for the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which represents food companies and retailers.
BPA is used in thousands of consumer goods, including compact discs, dental sealants, and credit card and ATM receipts, but health advocates say they are most concerned about BPA's presence in plastic food containers, bottles and the epoxy linings of metal cans because it can leach into food and beverages. It is found in the urine of more than 90 percent of the U.S. population, according to federal estimates.
More than 200 studies have connected BPA to a range of health concerns, including cancer and developmental and reproductive problems. Some U.S. states and cities have banned its use in certain products, primarily in items for young children that come into contact with food. Many companies have voluntarily removed BPA from their products or required suppliers to provide BPA-free options.
The FDA said in January that it had "some concern" about possible health effects linked to BPA but did not have enough reason to restrict its use and would study the question over 18 to 24 months. The Environmental Protection Agency says that it, too, wants to study the matter. And the National Institutes of Health are spending $30 million over the next two years, also examining whether BPA poses a health risk.
"We trust the FDA to complete a safety assessment for BPA, and we don't think the Senate should short-circuit and undermine the FDA," Faber said.
But Janet Nudelman, director of program and policy at the Breast Cancer Fund, said: "There's really no question that BPA is a food safety issue. The food safety bill is absolutely the right place to move this forward."
Feinstein and Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) introduced a bill last year to ban the chemical from baby bottles, sports water bottles, reusable food containers, infant formula liners and food can liners. Feinstein is using that as a model for an amendment to the food safety bill, her staff said.
"I feel very strongly that the government should protect people from harmful chemicals," Feinstein said in a statement released by her office. "BPA should be addressed as a part of the food safety overhaul."
BPA was developed in the 1930s, and commercial uses exploded in the 1950s after scientists discovered its ability to make plastics more durable and shatterproof. A ban would create significant problems for many food manufacturers who do not have BPA-free alternative packaging, Faber said.