Australia introduces voluntary bisphenol A phase out

By Rory Harrington

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Bpa Food contact materials Bisphenol a

International pressure to eliminate bisphenol A from food contact materials intensified yesterday after the Australian Government unveiled a deal with major retailers to begin the immediate phasing out of baby bottles containing bisphenol A (BPA).

In the United States, an environmental group said it had filed a lawsuit against the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) alleging it had failed to take action over the chemical quickly enough.

The announcements follow last week’s call by some 60 scientific experts and NGOs from across the globe for the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to take action curb human exposure to BPAl.

Australian phase out

In Australia, the Government said it had reached a voluntary agreement with major retailers to gradually remove BPA-containing bottles from sale. Parliamentary Secretary for Health Mark Butler said growing public concern over the chemical, which is used as a plasticiser in polycarbonate bottles, was the reason behind the Government brokering the deal with a string of leading retailers after months of negotiations.

The phase out will begin tomorrow (1 July) – with Wesfarmers group (Coles, K Mart and Target), and retailers Woolworths, Big W and Aldi all agreeing to take part. The move coincides with the start of Denmark’s ban on the chemical in food contact materials aimed at children aged three and under. Last week, the French senate confirmed it would be introducing a similar ban.

But the Australian minister stressed the agreement did not mark a change in the country's position on the safety of BPA.

“Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) has evaluated the safety of BPA and plasticisers in baby bottles and concluded that levels of intake of BPA or plasticisers are very low and do not pose a risk to babies health,”​ Butler said. “The Government has listened to families on the issue of BPA and we have taken appropriate action."

However, he highlighted the announcement in the US in January that the FDA would be carrying out further research into the risks for babies and infants associated with BPA and that a number of other countries had taken action on the substance.

“The Australian Government appreciates there has been a level of public concern relating to BPA in baby bottles and, as such, has worked extensively with retailers to introduce the phase out,”​ added Butler.

FDA sued

The US-based National Resource Defense Council said it has filed a lawsuit against the FDA, accusing the safety watchdog of failing to take action on the chemical.

The environmental group said it had “lost patience” after lodging a petition on BPA with the federal regulator 18 months ago.

NRDC petition argues that the existing scientific evidence is more than sufficient to conclude that BPA in our food supply is not safe for human consumption. The group points to the FDA announcement made at the start of 2010 expressing concerns over the effects of exposure to brain and reproductive health.

“The FDA has been slow to acknowledge current science on BPA and has been reluctant to regulate use of this chemical in food packaging,”​ said the NRDC’s Sarah Janssen.

She cited research that found 90 per cent of the US population had traces of the chemical in their bodies.

“Most people assume that the government wouldn’t allow Americans to be exposed to BPA if it wasn’t safe, but while the FDA has been reviewing the science, as of yet, no action has been taken,”​ said Janssen. “So today, the NRDC has asked the court to order the FDA to act.”

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