BPA Laws and Regulations
At a Glance
Bisphenol A (BPA) is an estrogenic chemical used in products such as soft plastics, thermal cash-register receipts, and dental sealants. We get most of our exposure to this chemical by eating canned food—the cans are lined with BPA which leaches into the foods and then gets into us. BPA is used the epoxy-resin linings of metal food cans. The epoxy lining forms a barrier between the metal and the food, which helps create a seal, keeping the food safe from bacterial contamination. But while BPA-based epoxy resins solve one food safety problem, they unfortunately create another, as BPA can leach from the resin, make its way into food, and ultimately end up in our bodies. This is the story of how BPA came to be regulated by a patchwork quilt of state and federal laws that fail to adequately safeguard the public health.
State and Local
State legislation to more strictly regulate BPA in food packaging was first introduced in 2005 in California. Since that time, more than 30 states and localities have introduced policies to ban or restrict BPA.
The first state to pass a ban on BPA in any product was Minnesota in 2009, with Connecticut following soon afterward. In total, thirteen states have adopted 19 policies to regulate the use of BPA in consumer products. Those states have adopted policies regulating BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups (a “sippy cup” is defined by the FDA as a spill-proof cup, including its closures and lids, designed to train babies or toddlers to drink from cups). A few states have gone further by eliminating BPA in infant formula cans, baby food jars, sports water bottles and even thermal receipt paper. In addition, four counties (Albany, Schenectady and Suffolk in New York, and Multnomah in Oregon) and the city of Chicago have also adopted policies to regulate BPA in food packaging.
In 2015, the California EPA listed BPA as a reproductive toxicant subject to regulation by Prop. 65, which requires consumer products that contain BPA to carry a warning label if levels exceed a “safe harbor” level. Under standard Prop. 65 warning procedures, each individual product containing BPA should be labeled as such, either on the product label or on signs in the shelf area where consumers are making purchasing decisions. However, CalEPA made an exception for BPA until the end of 2017: instead of labeling individual cans, a retailer may post a generic sign at the check-out stand stating that some canned and bottled products may contain BPA. Manufacturers are also required to report food packaging made with BPA to a publicly accessible database. This unique database, with over 20,000 listings, provides the most comprehensive information currently available on the use of BPA in food packaging. This database does not, however, override the need for adequate information on the product, or at the very least, in food aisles.
As of Jan 6, 2017, the temporary regulation issued by CalEPA allowing for point-of-sale warnings for bisphenol-A exposures expired. The state no longer considers it an option for businesses seeking to establish a safe harbor level for their use of BPA in food or beverage packaging.
Food & Drug Administration (FDA)
In response to a food additive petition filed by the American Chemistry Council, the FDA banned BPA from baby bottles and sippy cups as of December 2012. A subsequent citizen petition filed by then Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA) prompted the FDA to ban BPA in infant formula packaging in 2013. The agency responded by amending existing regulations to disallow the use of BPA in baby bottles, sippy cups or infant formula packaging to reflect their assessment that industry already abandoned the use of BPA in these items. However, it’s important to note that the FDA ruled on these “citizen petitions” based on market abandonment, not safety.
In 2015, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), introduced S. 821 the BPA in Food Packaging Right to Know Act, which would have required the labeling of all canned food containing BPA. The bill directed the Department of Health and Human Services to re-review the safety of BPA, taking into account low dose exposures, aggregate exposures and potential adverse effects of exposure on vulnerable populations. The bill also required food containers made with BPA carry a label stating: “This food packaging contains BPA, an endocrine-disrupting chemical, according to the National Institutes of Health.”
The “Ban Poisonous Additives (BPA) Act of 2016” was introduced into both chambers of Congress by Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass. and Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y. The bill aimed to empower the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to remove BPA from food packaging, label food packaging that still contains BPA while alternatives are developed, encourage manufacturers to replace this hazardous chemical with safer alternatives, and require the agency to review the safety of thousands of food contact substances. The bill also directed the Food and Drug Administration to periodically review the list of other substances that are considered safe for use in food and beverage containers to determine whether new scientific evidence raised concerns that the substance posed adverse health risks.
However, neither of these bills were reintroduced in the 115th Congress. Previously proposed federal legislation would have forced disclosure of BPA in food can linings, and more strictly regulated BPA and BPA alternatives in food packaging.
The momentum for restricting or prohibiting BPA in food packaging is now global. France is the only country to specifically seek a ban on BPA in food can linings, but BPA has been limited or banned for other uses.
The European Union banned the use of BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups in 2011 (Directive 2011/8/EU), but the ban was rescinded in 2015 after the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) published a highly contentious re-evaluation of BPA exposure and toxicity. However, some EU nation states continue to regulate BPA more strictly, despite the EFSA ruling, including Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France and Sweden.
France banned the use of BPA in all food containers as of 2015 and in infant food packaging as of 2013. Prior to this, a number of French cities had banned baby bottles made with BPA in city nurseries and day care centers. Denmark placed a temporary national ban on BPA in materials in contact with food for children aged 0–3 years (infant feeding bottles, feeding cups and packaging for baby food). This ban became effective July 1, 2010. Belgium banned the use of BPA in food contact materials intended for children up to the age of 3, effective 2013.