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Race is on to find bisphenol A substitutes, says NAMPA

By Rory Harrington , 17-Feb-2011

The race is on to find bisphenol A (BPA) alternatives in can linings but a substitute is unlikely be brought to market immediately - whatever laws are passed, the North American Metal Packaging Alliance (NAMPA) said yesterday.

John M. Rost, chairman of the influential US trade association, reiterated that its members were leading the chase to discover BPA replacements in metal containers despite being entirely convinced the chemical poses no health hazard at current exposure levels from food packaging.

The industry had come to terms with the apparent “paradox” that while safety bodies such as the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) do not believe the substance is a threat, consumers were demanding its removal, said the chairman in a letter that formed part of a regular NAMPA circular to the industry.

The packaging chief added the industry had embarked on its quest as an acceptance “that consumers’ concerns are real, whether we agree with them or not” and packaging producers were “hard at work trying to identify and test new can coating options that do not contain BPA”.

BPA is used as part of the epoxy lining in food and drink cans and in the manufacture of polycarbonate baby bottles and sippy cups for children. A raft of leading North American baby bottle manufacturers have already pledged to stop using the chemical in response to political and consumer concerns and a number of US states have introduced unilateral bans, with more due to follow suit. Last November, the European Commission announced a full ban on BPA in baby bottles would be introduced by mid-2011 for the region.

Race is on

Dr Rost cautioned that finding replacements was “no small feat” and that any alternative would need to be tested thoroughly to ensure it meets all regulatory and safety standards – a process that that will take time and can’t be tailored to suit legislative demands.

“The race is clearly on to identify BPA alternatives and our industry is at the forefront of that effort,” said Rost. “But it is a process that will not happen overnight, regardless of legislatively dictated deadlines. Our industry is hard at work to achieve that goal, but our first responsibility is to make sure that any alternative coating technology is fully tested and meets all regulatory requirements for health and safety, a race in which there are no shortcuts.”

NAMPA did not reveal any further details of member progress in its dispatch. So far the metal packaging industry in both the US and Europe has been reluctant to share details of research products or give possible timelines for when BPA alternatives could be available.

Legislative ‘food fight’ continues

Rost's remark concerning "legislative dictacted deadlines" came as he included an overview of a US law designed to outlaw BPA in food packaging.

While an amendment to ban BPA had not been included in the Food Safety Bill, passed late last year, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) has introduced The Ban Poisonous Additives Act of 2011 (H.R. 432, S. 136) in the current session of Congress, said NAMPA – adding “so the food fight continues”.

The measure would ban BPA in food and beverage containers that are composed, “in whole or in part,” of the substance or can release it into food contents. The ban would be effective for reusable containers 180 days after enactment, with 180 days or more for other food containers.

The legislation stipulates that waivers may be granted where no technologically feasible alternative to replace BPA in a certain product or package exists, or if an alternative package cannot be used for the product. The waiver will not last for more than one year and requires that all packages be clearly labelled as containing BPA, said the body.

The bill also requires FDA to review all food additives for potential low dose affects on vulnerable populations. Those can be removed from packaging use if the Secretary determines there is “no longer a reasonable certainty that no harm will result to aggregate populations.” It has a number of “influential co-sponsors” but remains in the Republican-controlled Committee on Energy and Commerce, said NAMPA.

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