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Feinstein pushes BPA restrictions in food safety bill

November 17, 2010 |  2:00 pm

Deliberations on the food safety bill the Senate is expected to take up Wednesday may include a vote on an amendment by Sen. Dianne Feinstein that would limit the use of bisphenol A, or BPA, the widely used but controversial plastics additive.

Feinstein originally proposed a broad ban on BPA food packaging. That's a deal breaker to some in the food industry who say that they can't find a cost-effective substitute.

In a more recent proposal, the chemical would be pulled out of packaging, bottles and cups used by children and infants.

BPA is a plastic hardener and an ingredient in epoxy resin, which is used in can linings.In the human body, it mimics estrogen. Some studies have linked the chemical to reproductive abnormalities and higher risks of cancer and diabetes. Babies and children are thought to be particularly susceptible to any adverse effects because their ability to metabolize chemicals is not completely developed.

To date, the Food and Drug Administration has expressed concern about possible harm from BPA but has declined to ban it, calling instead for further study.

Feinstein's scaled back proposal would:

  • ban the use of BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups within six months of enactment;
  • ban BPA in baby food and infant formula within two years;
  • require the Food and Drug Administration to issue a safety assessment on BPA by Nov. 1, 2012, for all products containing BPA.
Most major baby-bottle makers already have taken BPA out of their products, so in that respect, at least, Feinstein's amendment doesn't demand much.

It's not clear how food interests otherwise supportive of the food safety bill would react to these requirements. But earlier in the year, when Feinstein was talking about a more sweeping ban on BPA, key industry lobbyists said they opposed any ban on the chemical in food safety legislation.  They say that given the controversy surrounding BPA, it should be dealt with in separate legislation.

Earlier Wednesday, Feinstein issued a statement that she was “still trying to work out details of an agreement, but chemical industry lobbyists are doing everything in their power to block any progress on the issue.”

Although the bill is designed to give the Food and Drug Administration greater authority over the nation's food supply, opponents say it could bankrupt some small farms that don't have the means to comply with new standards the bill would impose. Those standards could include registering food safety plans with the FDA and documenting efforts to show food is not contaminated as it is produced.

"It's going to put a nail in the coffin of our family food producers," said Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), who is planning an amendment to exempt some small farms that market food close to their operations. He says many small farms already comply with state and local regulations to keep food safe.

-- Andrew Zajac and P.J. Huffstutter

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