There are moments when you wonder whether the world is going insane over the wrong health risks. Take BPA. There is no study showing that BPA harms humans or that BPA leaching from baby bottles poses an actual, measurable risk.
The European Union’s Food Safety Authority conducted a risk assessment focusing on the threat to infants in 2006; it was carried out by 21 independent scientists; it raised the Tolerable Daily Intake (TDI) by a factor of five; in other words, it found BPA considerably safer than it first thought – so safe a mother could give her baby four times the normal number of bottles per day before reaching the threshold of safe consumption (which has an additional safety factor of 100).
The Japanese government also conducted a risk assessment: no risk; a non-profit international consumer safety organization NSF did a risk assessment under the guidance of Calvin Willhite of the California EPA which was published a couple of months ago: again, no risk. The Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction did a risk analysis last year, and dismissed most of the risks activists had been complaining about for years; but they did have some concern over certain animal studies. Oddly, these studies and the effects were not the one’s commonly touted by anti-BPA activists. The National Toxicology Program agreed with the CERHR, but said there was no cause for alarm.
One common thread in these risk assessments is that some of the scientific research has been rejected. In fact, the same scientific research keeps getting rejected no matter which country is doing the risk assessment. But the risk assessments explain why, and the reasons range from poor methodology and statistics.
And guess what? Most of the evidence rejected are studies that attributed risks to BPA. The key scientific fact is metabolic. If you inject BPA, the chemical reaction is different than if you ingest it. Thus, are studies which find a risk based on injection relevant to humans? Many experts charged with examining the issue have said no.
Despite this body of evidence – all of which is in the public domain, and all of which is there to be judged by objective statistical standards or interpreted by independent toxicologists with no financial stake in researching BPA good or bad, experts who journalists can actually call up – the media have gleefully taken to speculating that the Food and Drug Administration is engaged in some sort of cover up, a conspiracy influenced by the plastics industry. The decision by Canada to propose a ban on BPA, one that appears to be based more on politics than science, but it has ratcheted up the sense of alar-like panic. Many people would say, better to be safe than sorry: ban that chemical! But doesn’t it strike anyone as peculiar that the one political body which has embraced the precautionary principle with gusto, the European Union, hasn’t banned BPA?
Surely this is an interesting question – or at the very least a pause for thought. But the media remains doggedly unaware of Europe’s position, and it is rarely mentioned in the hundreds of articles on BPA in the past few years.
Which brings us to, the latest example of poisoned-cherry picking, The New York Times Editorial page, which called for a ban on BPA in baby bottles this week. To read the editorial, one would think that nobody has ever wondered about BPA before the Canadian government bravely stepped in to respond to public concern.
Surely, readers deserve editorial writers that do a little bit more in the way of reporting, that are a bit more scientifically savvy, that have the nerve to exercise the journalistic equivalent of the precautionary principle, before igniting panic and telling Congress what it should be doing?
(Again, STATS receives no money from any industry associated with BPA or plastics)