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For the record

Bisphenol A in food packaging

In January 2007, the Daily Express ran a story about the use of bisphenol A in food packaging. The article was headlined “Fears over gender bender chemicals in food packaging” and stated that “experts voiced fresh fears” about a chemical intermediate called Bisphenol A (BPA). BPA is used as the basic building block to manufacture high performance plastics notably including polycarbonate and epoxy resins. These plastics have a wide range of uses including food containers, drinking bottles, CDs, linings of food cans. The article refers to Bisphenol A as a “toxic substance”. It said that “studies have also implicated the compound in breast cancer, male reproductive defects, diabetes, insulin resistance, polycystic ovary syndrome and obesity.” The expert opinion refers to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA—the organisation set up by the European Union to provide independent scientific advice relating to the safety of food and feed) panel’s review of Bisphenol A (published 29th January 2007).


Professor Alan Boobis (British Toxicology Society), a toxicologist at Imperial College London and David Thomas (Plastics Europe), a bisphenol A expert, reply below.

Summary of their main points

  • The independent experts that issued the EFSA opinion actually concluded that the risks from BPA are even smaller than it was previously assumed they might be, not the other way around
  • Toxicology studies consistently show there is no link between Bisphenol A use and the diseases referred to in the article
  • All substances are potentially toxic—what matters is the dose. At high doses, a number of substances may interfere with the body’s hormonal system, but this does not confirm toxicity to humans at the exposure they experience in reality


Full comments from toxicologist Professor Alan Boobis and bisphenol A expert David Thomas

“Experts voiced fresh fears?” On the contrary, the experts that issued the EFSA opinion concluded that the risks from BPA are even smaller than it was previously assumed they might be. They carried out a thorough review of the data on Bisphenol A safety and concluded that according to the scientific evidence, the safe level of lifelong intake should be increased by a factor of five, from 0.01 to 0.05 mg/kg bodyweight/day. The only quote provided in the article to support the claim of “fresh fears” is from Elizabeth Salter Green, director of the WWF’s “toxics” campaign.


Packaging material is only permitted to be in contact with food after a thorough investigation and a positive safety listing by the EU authorities. The EFSA panel consists of independent experts drawn from countries across the EU and is not obliged to follow the line of any official body. The safety of Bisphenol A has also been assessed by a number of independent national and international regulatory agencies (including the European Commission (EU Risk Assessment), the US Food and Drug Agency (FDA), the UK Food Standards Agency and the Japanese Ministry of Health and Welfare). In each case it has been shown to be safe in the kinds of doses that humans are exposed to.


A “toxic substance… shown to interfere with the body’s hormone system?” At high doses, animal studies suggest a number of substances may interfere with the body’s hormonal system. Such findings do not however confirm toxicity to humans at the exposure they experience in reality.. All substances are potentially toxic—what matters is the dose. Is Bisphenol A really implicated in the wide range of diseases listed in the article? No. The list is a mixture of results from studies that are either small and explorative, some of which are of questionable quality and could not be reproduced, or report effects observed at doses very much greater, by factors of 1,000s in many cases, than the maximum levels to which humans are exposed. The major regulatory-quality toxicology studies consistently show there is no link between Bisphenol A use and these diseases.

********UPDATE********

In September 2008, the media reported on a new study on the effects of Bisphenol A. Dr Iain Lang is a Research Fellow in Epidemiology and Public Health at the Peninsula Medical School in Exeter and one of the authors of the study. Here, he describes what the study found:

“The study we carried out used publicly accessible data on health information and blood and urine specimens from a large cross-section of the US population. More than 90% of the tested population had measurable levels of Bisphenol A (BPA) in their urine and results showed that people with higher levels of BPA in their urine were more likely to suffer from diabetes or cardiovascular disease.

These findings are important because this is the first time that large-scale data on BPA in humans have been available. Our findings are in keeping with some of what’s been shown before in animals or tissue samples, but there is still a lot of information we don’t know about BPA and how the human body deals with it so more research is needed.

We can’t say for sure at the moment that BPA causes these diseases, just that higher BPA levels tend to go along with them. It’s possible that some other factor is involved: for example, it could be that people with diabetes act in ways that expose them to more BPA. Because of this uncertainty, it’s probably more important to have a healthy lifestyle and diet, which are known to reduce the risk of these diseases.”

********UPDATE 1st December 2009********

The Telegraph reported today about campaigners wanting a ban on BPA in baby bottles as “precautionary measures” (“Ban chemical linked to cancer in baby bottles: campaigners”). The article refers to research from Exeter University looking at the relationship between BPA and heart disease and diabetes. This research is the one referred to in the update above by one of the researchers involved in the study, not to a new piece of research.

Author: Sense About Science

Document type: For The Record

Published: 2 March 2010


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