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How Much BPA Exposure Is Dangerous?
April 3, 2012 6:37 AM   Subscribe

US Feds Reject Petition To Ban BPA In Food -- "...recent studies done by government researchers at the request of regulatory agencies suggest it's very unlikely that BPA poses a health risk to people." (NPR Audio)

The National Resources Defense Council is the organization that submitted the petition in 2008. This is their lit on BPA, and this is the FDA's response to the rejection.
posted by crunchland (122 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
Previously on the Blue
posted by rough ashlar at 6:40 AM on April 3, 2012


I'd say fuck those guys, but the high concentration of estrogen-like chemicals in my system renders that an impossibility.
posted by R. Schlock at 6:45 AM on April 3, 2012 [8 favorites]


But recent studies done by government researchers at the request of regulatory agencies suggest it's very unlikely that BPA poses a health risk to people. The body is extremely good at inactivating BPA — so good that the levels of potentially harmful BPA in the blood are too low to be detected, the scientists say.
posted by zamboni at 6:55 AM on April 3, 2012


Ah well, give it 18 months and BPA will probably be being trumpeted as a cure for cancer or something.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 6:57 AM on April 3, 2012


Go to their houses and check their water bottles and cookware. If they're like other environmental/bio researchers who've studied this, chances are you won't find a single clear bottle or teflon coated item anywhere. This at least is true for every single researcher in this field I know (and due to a quirk of fate I know several) no matter what the government line is.
posted by mobunited at 7:00 AM on April 3, 2012 [7 favorites]


Well, of course. Conventional wisdom suggested that it was arguably bad. Any rational person without enough information wouldn't take the risk with the unknown. More telling would be to go to their houses in a couple of months and see if the results of this study had any effect on their behavior.
posted by crunchland at 7:03 AM on April 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Zamboni's quote seems to be the key issue. Metabolism, in vitro as opposed to in vivo testing, and the use of non-primate models seems to be the basis of the FDA's rejection.
posted by andorphin at 7:04 AM on April 3, 2012


Just so sad that corporate can sway logic and overall health.
posted by stormpooper at 7:07 AM on April 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


I can't see any way this will lead to any new mom buying a baby bottle that doesn't trumpet BPA free. Guess it will save coke a few bucks in new cans, though
posted by bystander at 7:08 AM on April 3, 2012


The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has denied a call to ban the plastic additive BPA from food packaging. The action comes after government scientists found little reason to think people are being harmed by the chemical.

The inaction comes after government scientists conducted a thorough review of the arguments brought forth by the NRDC and found insufficient scientific basis for them. At least that's my take on reading the FDA's response link where they methodically shoot down every one of the items in the citizen petition. That's not "little reason" it's more along the lines of "little evidence."

I'd say fuck those guys,

And this would put you next to climate change deniers in persisting to hold a political belief despite the results of scientific inquiry.

chances are you won't find a single clear bottle or teflon coated item anywhere.

Can you offer a citation for this?
posted by three blind mice at 7:09 AM on April 3, 2012 [22 favorites]


I can't see any way this will lead to any new mom buying a baby bottle that doesn't trumpet BPA free.

But many companies worried about BPA's bad image have already started using alternative chemicals in a wide range of products, especially those intended for kids.

These chemicals may be safe — but they haven't been scrutinized the way BPA has.

posted by zamboni at 7:12 AM on April 3, 2012


I highly recommend reading the FDA's rejection (PDF), I love it when our Feds act like the adults in the room like they are supposed to.

The potential toxicity of BPA in commercially relevant exposure levels was always unlikely but vaguely scary before the excretion pathway was elucidated. Now it is pretty absurd. Our bodies rapidly and effectively convert BPA into BPA-monoglucuronide, which is both inactive and rapidly excreted. This means that all of the researchers who applied BPA to their various model systems, from DNA methylation to obesity to thyroid function, were using dramatically non-relevant amounts. Our digestive systems are exposed to higher levels of more bizarre estrogen like compounds regularly by nature, it only stands to reason that we are built to handle that kind of thing. For some time now the only reason this 'controversy' has continued has been the name brand value of hating on the compound.

I find it kind of funny seeing this thread right after one that accused Republicans of beings especially anti-science.

GallonOfAlan: Ah well, give it 18 months and BPA will probably be being trumpeted as a cure for cancer or something.

This is not that unlikely, with all of the otherwise not directly useful research that has been devoted to it someone will likely think of something neat.
posted by Blasdelb at 7:15 AM on April 3, 2012 [27 favorites]


The EU banned Bisphenol in baby bottles already. But, as you can see in the BBC article most experts saw it as a triumph of politics over science.
posted by vacapinta at 7:18 AM on April 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


mobunited: Go to their houses and check their water bottles and cookware. If they're like other environmental/bio researchers who've studied this, chances are you won't find a single clear bottle or teflon coated item anywhere. This at least is true for every single researcher in this field I know (and due to a quirk of fate I know several) no matter what the government line is.

three blind mice: Can you offer a citation for this?
OO, I think I can manage that,

"I would be happy for a baby of mine to be fed from a polycarbonate bottle containing bisphenol A." -Professor Richard Sharpe, of the Medical Research Council's Human Reproductive Sciences Unit at the University of Edinburgh
posted by Blasdelb at 7:23 AM on April 3, 2012


I wonder if Mrs Sharpe agrees?
posted by Forktine at 7:26 AM on April 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Forktine: I wonder if Mrs Sharpe agrees?

Because a mother's intuition is better informed than a scientist specializing in human reproduction?
posted by gilrain at 7:31 AM on April 3, 2012 [26 favorites]


SCIENCE!
posted by garlic at 7:31 AM on April 3, 2012


boobies for all!
posted by edgeways at 7:32 AM on April 3, 2012 [6 favorites]



Certain parties wanted heightened scrutiny of BPA and they got it. Good deal for everyone.

The studies that led to the rejection of this petition to ban BPA appear to be relevant and thoughtful. Good deal for everyone.

Why is this taken by some to be a "pro-corporate" outcome?
posted by Glomar response at 7:34 AM on April 3, 2012 [14 favorites]


Uh, because we live in an age when you really can't hope to have a thorough understanding of everything, and every change in market regulation is profitable to someone somewhere, ergo there is a conspiracy and Neil Armstrong never walked on the moon.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 7:38 AM on April 3, 2012 [9 favorites]


Why is this taken by some to be a "pro-corporate" outcome?

Because people just don't trust corporations these days. And they trust government even less. There's a fine line between crazy, and stating outright that you're the oyster and you're afraid of being eaten by either the walrus or the carpenter.
posted by Blue_Villain at 7:39 AM on April 3, 2012 [4 favorites]


(Upon review, not that religion has anything to do with this, just that there are only two choices and that both of them seem equally evil when you're the one getting eaten.)
posted by Blue_Villain at 7:40 AM on April 3, 2012


, chances are you won't find a single clear bottle or teflon coated item anywhere.

This applies in other areas also.

Gates and Rockefeller Cafeterias Reject Monsanto GE Foods!
posted by rough ashlar at 7:41 AM on April 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


It sounds like this is a good outcome.

But it's hard to blame anyone for being suspicious: White House and FDA at Odds on Regulatory Issues.
posted by enn at 7:43 AM on April 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Our bodies rapidly and effectively convert BPA into BPA-monoglucuronide, which is both inactive and rapidly excreted.

For the sake of the next questions - lets say this is true.

What happens to this BPA-monoglucronide when it enters the sewage treatment plant? And when it enters the waterways - what is the effect on said environment when exposed to UV light?
posted by rough ashlar at 7:46 AM on April 3, 2012


No clear bottles? You propose they don't use glass either?
posted by maryr at 7:49 AM on April 3, 2012


And from a .gov site - so you know it can be trusted
Tox Town on PVC
posted by rough ashlar at 7:50 AM on April 3, 2012


"What happens to this BPA-monoglucronide when it enters the sewage treatment plant? And when it enters the waterways - what is the effect on said environment when exposed to UV light?"

It is a pretty enzymatically accessible organic compound. The homeopathic concentrations that would end up in the environment will end up in some environmental microbe that will happily turn it into cell mass. Life on Earth hasn't lasted this long by being totally unable to break down simple structures like this, particularly in the absurd dilutions that it ends up in.
posted by Blasdelb at 7:53 AM on April 3, 2012 [6 favorites]


Would you guys be surprised to learn that there is a compound put into almost everything in grocery stores called D-galactose-3,6-anhydro-L-galactopyranose1 that is so foreign to human digestion that even the vast majority of bacteria cannot break it down? It has been incontrovertibly demonstrated to directly cause hysteresis, is a well known laxative, and scientists using it in laboratories usually have elaborate disposal procedures for our own safety. It is generally used in food as either a gelling or stabilizing agent, usually both, and for the most part is only used in foods with poor nutritional value anyway. I use it, carefully, in my lab to prevent bacterial colonies from spreading, however most labs that work with it use it only in clearly marked and segregated areas and only with gloves to separate strands of DNA.

To give you an idea of the fear this inspires, I once made a variant of jello shots using it to make gels that were 80% alcohol by volume using only materials declared food safe by the FDA, which were awesome. However, they freaked the fuck out most of the otherwise adventurous researchers I offered them to, and I still get shit about even handling it outside of a lab.

1 Which is short for: (2S,3R,4S,5R,6R)-2-[[(1S,2S,3S,5S,8R)-3-[(2S,3R,4S,5S,6R)-2-[[(1S,2S,3R,5S,8R)-2,3-dihydroxy-4,7-dioxabicyclo[3.2.1]octan-8-yl]oxy]-3,5-dihydroxy-6-(hydroxymethyl)oxan-4-yl]oxy-2-hydroxy-4,7-dioxabicyclo[3.2.1]octan-8-yl]oxy]-6-(hydroxymethyl)oxane-3,4,5-triol
posted by Blasdelb at 8:08 AM on April 3, 2012 [21 favorites]


The homeopathic concentrations that would end up in the environment

I see what you attempted to do there. Attempting to argue emotionally VS with links to studies about how small amounts of chemicals have effects.

Chemicals In Our Waters Are Affecting Humans And Aquatic Life In Unanticipated Ways
posted by rough ashlar at 8:10 AM on April 3, 2012


Blasdelb: recipe please?
posted by Amplify at 8:21 AM on April 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


"I would be happy for a baby of mine to be fed from a polycarbonate bottle containing bisphenol A." -Professor Richard Sharpe, of the Medical Research Council's Human Reproductive Sciences Unit at the University of Edinburgh

From a Google snippit of a PDF -
Professor Richard Sharpe has worked in the area of male reproductive endocrinology for more than 30 years.

It is very easy to say "I would be happy for a baby of mine to be fed from a polycarbonate bottle containing bisphenol A." when there is no real danger of such actually happening - unless ' worked in the area of male reproductive endocrinology for more than 30 years' started when you were 13 wanking off.
posted by rough ashlar at 8:21 AM on April 3, 2012


rough ashlar, if you want to play the "A-ha! You didn't link to a study!" game, you might want to try linking to something that is A) a study and B) talks about BPA, rather than a news article which is neither.
posted by 0xFCAF at 8:22 AM on April 3, 2012 [2 favorites]



I'd say fuck those guys,

And this would put you next to climate change deniers in persisting to hold a political belief despite the results of scientific inquiry.



What? Not all scientific inquiries are the same. Climate Change has been studied intensively, for many years.
posted by Liquidwolf at 8:32 AM on April 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


rough ashlar:
"I see what you attempted to do there. Attempting to argue emotionally VS with links to studies about how small amounts of chemicals have effects.

Chemicals In Our Waters Are Affecting Humans And Aquatic Life In Unanticipated Ways
"

Looking more into it, because of course there would be environmental studies on this, BPA turns out to have a half life of 10 days in soil along with measurable effects in invertebrates showing up somewhere around 1μg/L to 1 mg/L. This is a really short half life and a really low toxicity that would only really be conceivably relevant in the fields of plastic in the ocean and in landfills. I for one am not really concerned for the fish in our landfills and I don't really think that this is the salient problem with the fields of plastic in our oceans.

The environmentally persistent and profoundly toxic compounds mentioned in your link are colossal problems, you might notice that BPA is not mentioned in it at all.

I've learned that people, for the most part, don't read the links anyway. This is a prime example.
posted by Blasdelb at 8:35 AM on April 3, 2012 [10 favorites]


My laboratory has no elaborate disposal procedure for D-galactose-3,6-anhydro-L-galactopyranose, commonly known as agar. We sterilize it before tossing it into the normal trash, but that is to get rid of our bacteria / yeast, and it has nothing to do with agar being toxic. Most labs do use agar to analyze DNA, but it has its own clearly marked, segregated area because ethidium bromide is put into it to visualize the DNA -- the agar is not toxic. The ethidium bromide is (might be? there is a debate) toxic. Most microbiologists I know are stoked about agar-alcohol shots, as long as the agar comes from a grocery store and not a molecular lab, where it might have sat besides something deadly. A previous comment seems to have some misinformation in it.
posted by Peter Petridish at 8:35 AM on April 3, 2012 [15 favorites]


You can make agar 80% ethanol? ...This changes everything [that I had planned for Easter Egg jello shots].

And personally, I've used the powdered milk from our Western blotting supplies in tea when sufficiently desperate, so I'm not sure lab agar would scare me off too much. I plan on dying of EtBr-caused finger cancer at this point anyway.
posted by maryr at 8:59 AM on April 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


"I would be happy for a baby of mine to be fed from a polycarbonate bottle containing bisphenol A." -Professor Richard Sharpe, of the Medical Research Council's Human Reproductive Sciences Unit at the University of Edinburgh

Funnily enough, he has the same last name of a buddy who, IIRC, coauthored a paper on endocrine disruptors. I noticed the lack of teflon cookware in his home, asked if he was doing it to avoid EDs and looked at me like I was the biggest fucking idiot in the universe not to know that if you know what they are, you would avoid them any goddamned way you could.

The funny thing is that Richard Sharpe's actual statements are highly qualified and limited to BPA levels after being broken down in the gut, in isolation, and mentions that other scientists disagree with him.

The facts are:

1) BPA is not essential.
2) The FDA is frequently hijacked by lobbying bullshit.
3) There are a large number of reasonable scientists who believe it's dangerous. My anecdotal experience is what swung me, but there's no poverty of non-anecdotal evidence to choose from.
4) There are lots of sane arguments for erring caution, including many historical examples of what happens when we don't choose caution.

Basically, the question is whether you're going to actually make a rational decision, or one which is a statement of faith about some position or other. I'm phasing out as many endocrine disruptors as I can because it's a cautious best guess that doesn't harm anyone.
posted by mobunited at 9:09 AM on April 3, 2012 [4 favorites]


Peter Petridish: "A previous comment seems to have some misinformation in it."

You're no fun at all ... that was kind of the point. Besides, the whole putting used plates through a massive pressure cooker at 16 psi at over 120 °C in a special biohazard bag, and then placing that in a black garbage bad to not freak people out thing seems pretty elaborate to me. I'm also pretty convinced by ethidium bromide's toxicity, I know too many of the old timers who have died way too young of bizarre cancers associated with EtBr in mice to be cavalier with that shit.

Amplify: "Blasdelb: recipe please?"

Agar shots are awesome! Agar is a sugar unlike Jello, which is a protein that denatures in ~37% alcohol, thus it is possible, though difficult, to make super high abv agar shots.

The limiting reactant is the boiling point of ethanol, which is 78.4 °C and lower than food safe agar's melting point of 85°C. However, if you carefully melt a ~10% agar w/v solution, it won't necessarily all get into solution, and dilute that ~96°C agar into ~9 volumes of boiling ethanol under a condenser, it should work. It will make an agar gel that mostly looks and feels like a normal 1% agar gel but with beads of ethanol that squirt out when poked. It is difficult to be sure what percentage it will end up, but depending on the quality of your condenser it ought to be 70-80+%1

Making shots with 151 Rum and premixed coconut agar powder however is reasonably safe but very delicious. Use a good lid, have a fire extinguisher nearby, and never open the lid near a flame or hot things; the more you dilute with water the less you need to worry about fire safety. Keep it boiling and stirred until the agar goes into solution. Just keep in mind that this will end up at something like 50-65% abv and anything more than the tiniest nibble needs to be chased a lot more than you would expect.

1To be clear, unless you have appropriate food safe apparatus and know what you are doing THIS IS A REALLY DUMB IDEA. The flash point of ethanol is 13°C and the autoignition temperature is 422°C, which means that any kind of flame anywhere may SET YOUR SHIT OFF LIKE A BOMB. If any of the condensing ethanol leaks and touches the heating element you use, it will produce flame, which may SET YOUR SHIT OFF LIKE A BOMB. If the the concentration in the air around the pot builds up to the wrong level, it may SET YOUR SHIT OFF LIKE A BOMB.
posted by Blasdelb at 9:11 AM on April 3, 2012 [26 favorites]


People have a right to get what they want from the companies that serve them whether it's irrational or not. That's how free markets are supposed to work. Industries shouldn't just get to haul out experts to tell consumers why they should be grateful to get what they get, and the government shouldn't be in the business of siding with those experts. If there's a popular demand for a ban on BPA, and there are alternatives for consumers that aren't more environmentally harmful, I don't think expert opinion should necessarily rule the day. Regulation (when it actually reflects the public will) is one of the mechanisms consumers use to express their preferences in the marketplace when it comes to practices in the producer markets (where the choices at the consumer market level may be limited due to the commodified nature of manufacturing processes).

Everytime I see industry experts pushing back against popular outcries for banning some chemical or regulating some manufacturing process like this, I think, yep, there those ungrateful business owners go again, giving the finger to the consumers they're supposed to serve.

This decision probably won't matter anyway. People are buying BPA-free alternatives to most products already (because fortunately, in this case, alternatives are making their way to the consumer markets).

With or without a ban, I think BPAs will gradually disappear from the market. Even if there's no definitive scientific basis for that consumer preference, consumers still have a right to demand what they want from the markets. What gets my goat is the arrogance of these producers, who insist they know better than their customer base and are willing to actively defy their own consumers wishes rather than accepting their subservient role in society and being appropriately deferential to consumer demand.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:18 AM on April 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm phasing out as many endocrine disruptors as I can because it's a cautious best guess that doesn't harm anyone.

WON'T SOMEONE THINK OF THE PETROCHEMICAL INDUSTRY???
posted by Sys Rq at 9:24 AM on April 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also to be perfectly clear agar is an absolutely safe food ingredient that has been used for culinary purposes for thousands of years. Hysteresis is the dependence of a system not only on its current environment but also on its past environment, and agar exibits hysteresis in a really cool effect where the melting point is significantly higher than the point at which it solidifies. It is not some scary condition you haven't heard of yet. Agar is a laxative, but you kind of have to eat a lot of it, and if you do it will be the most pleasant shit you ever take. Additionally, I mentioned that agar is found in foods with poor nutritional value, and indeed agar is found in many DELICIOUS desserts.
posted by Blasdelb at 9:24 AM on April 3, 2012


Agar is a laxative, but you kind of have to eat a lot of it, and if you do it will be the most pleasant shit you ever take.

Must be getting older, because that really got my attention.
posted by TheRedArmy at 9:28 AM on April 3, 2012 [11 favorites]


Metafilter: may SET YOUR SHIT OFF LIKE A BOMB.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 9:33 AM on April 3, 2012 [6 favorites]


it is possible, though difficult, to make super high abv agar shots

Unless you do know what you are doing, I'd avoid this. Even if you do, I'd be very careful. One of the labs in my building blew up a couple of years back doing something similar. One one killed, thankfully, but a few hundred thousand dollars of damage.
posted by bonehead at 9:44 AM on April 3, 2012


(No one killed, that is).
posted by bonehead at 9:45 AM on April 3, 2012


...and I don't really think that this is the salient problem with the fields of plastic in our oceans.

I see what you did there.
posted by Uncle Ira at 9:50 AM on April 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


I have avoided teflon cookware for over a decade, mainly because it cooks shitty food.
posted by mek at 9:53 AM on April 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


I apologize; my irony detector must be broken today. I will have it taken to the shop to get it repaired.
posted by Peter Petridish at 9:55 AM on April 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Blasdelb: “I find it kind of funny seeing this thread right after one that accused Republicans of beings especially anti-science.”

It's not really that odd. Imagining that the FDA could be capable of producing a thoughtful decision based on a solid review of all the available scientific evidence is only slightly more difficult than imagining that the mafia could create a really effective anti-bullying campaign.
posted by koeselitz at 9:55 AM on April 3, 2012


mek: I have avoided teflon cookware for over a decade, mainly because it cooks shitty food.

It's a poor workman who blames his tools... ;-)
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:57 AM on April 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


you might notice that BPA is not mentioned in it at all.

It was in response to your 'homeopathic' comment - to show that small amounts of chemicals can have a big effect.
posted by rough ashlar at 9:57 AM on April 3, 2012


Well, yeah. A big part of the problem is that the FDA, and government regulation as a whole has lost a lot of credibility with people. A big part of the problem has been stuff like Vioxx, not with food I don't think. Along with other scandals and lobbyist infestation everywhere it's not surprising that people wouldn't trust it.

The other thing I think is interesting is that 'natural' compounds never get any kind of scrutiny. When you're talking about the very low level effect, how do you know there isn't some compound in grapes or tomatoes or spinach that causes cancer?

We certainly know tobacco causes cancer and that's always been 100% natural. Hell, I remember a couple years ago wasn't some cigarette company touting 100% natural cigarettes, with no additives? You could make an organic cigarette, with organic paper and a filter and it would still totally give you cancer.

The millions of other compounds present in food aren't analyzed or scrutinized. We know there are antineutrients in a lot of foods, which reduce our ability to absorb nutrients. Some of them might have bigger impacts on health.
To be clear, unless you have appropriate food safe apparatus and know what you are doing THIS IS A REALLY DUMB IDEA.
Yeah, I was about to say, E85 is used all the time as a racing fuel now, a cube that's 85% ethanol would be pretty dangerous.
posted by delmoi at 10:00 AM on April 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


boobies for all!*

*... for whom never, ever pumping or having to rely on formula is a viable option.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 10:05 AM on April 3, 2012


saulgoodman: If there's a popular demand for a ban on BPA, and there are alternatives for consumers that aren't more environmentally harmful, I don't think expert opinion should necessarily rule the day. Regulation (when it actually reflects the public will) is one of the mechanisms consumers use to express their preferences in the marketplace when it comes to practices in the producer markets (where the choices at the consumer market level may be limited due to the commodified nature of manufacturing processes).

You know what the saddest thing is? You are probably right that it won't. There was a time once when both liberals and conservatives listened to people who know what the fuck they are talking about. Nowadays you get liberals, who would just stare at you blankly if you asked them to describe the adaptive immune system, yelling over actual immunologists on topics related to vaccines. There are so many Conservatives who, if asked might guess that the AAAS has something to do with cars, are convinced that climate science is some kind of big scam.

Now instead of focusing on the many and unbelievably dire real health problems and real (PDF) environmental problems we face today, we're chasing ghosts like this. I'm almost in favor of banning it if only to get people focused on something real in the next news cycle.
posted by Blasdelb at 10:08 AM on April 3, 2012 [9 favorites]


I think that part of the reason must be the fact that the industry is fairly successful in self-regulating this issue. The availability of BPA-free things is growing, and the consumer is vastly aware of the BPA issue. Sure, the fight against BPAs may not be aided by this decision, but I think this might be one of those instances where the market is correcting it. (Kind of like the pink slime issue.)
posted by jabberjaw at 10:37 AM on April 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


What gets my goat is the arrogance of these producers, who insist they know better than their customer base and are willing to actively defy their own consumers wishes rather than accepting their subservient role in society and being appropriately deferential to consumer demand. --- I think there's a difference between defiance and defense of your product in the face of misinformation, fear, and falsehood.

For example, what if, tomorrow, someone started a movement to ban all mushrooms from pizzas. Mushrooms can be poisonous, after all, and you wouldn't want your kid eating poison, do you? So the Mushroom Growers come back and say, "No, no. There's nothing to be afraid of. Some mushrooms are poisonous, but the ones we put on your pizzas are completely safe." Is that defiance, or defense from irrational fear?

While you may be right that the market will decide whether BPA remains available in the future, but if it ultimately fails, it won't be because it was unsafe, and the FDA, whether you want to believe their scientists or not, say it is.
posted by crunchland at 10:41 AM on April 3, 2012 [4 favorites]


I write documents about chemicals all day (silly things called "MSDS") and would argue that BPA (CAS# 80-05-7) should be a real health concern for Americans (in addition to the hundreds of other chemicals that we really do not know the long terms effects of).

The real question is what is a "safe" level of exposure to the class of compounds called Endocrine Disrupters?

However, I do agree that eating fast food is probably more of a well known public health concern......
posted by vinkoman at 10:53 AM on April 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Nowadays you get liberals, who would just stare at you blankly if you asked them to describe the adaptive immune system, yelling over actual immunologists on topics related to vaccines.

I agree with this sentiment to a point, but this is not a public health question in the same way that vaccines are. There's no default right to force a particular product on people--for good or bad reasons--if the product doesn't offer any public health benefits. It's not like anyone is seriously arguing the use of BPA has significant public health benefits. Or if they are, I've yet to see that argument made. No, the pro-argument are all based on what the industry claims are other benefits to the consumer. But consumers have every right to demand arbitrary, crazy things from industry so long as those things aren't actively harmful to the public welfare. So pet rocks are just fine. And a popular-consensus ban on pet rocks should be just fine, too, wasteful or dumb as it may be from an expert position. Otherwise it's not the consumers driving the markets.

For example, what if, tomorrow, someone started a movement to ban all mushrooms from pizzas.

There are already long established bans on things I consider just this absurd, but I will continue to obtain those goods illicitly accept these bans humbly so long as there remains popular support for them because that's one of the costs of citizenship. Plus, I doubt there's a popular consensus emerging to ban something so yummy. When it comes to BPA, I'd say there's already a consensus.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:55 AM on April 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's not like anyone is seriously arguing the use of BPA has significant public health benefits. Or if they are, I've yet to see that argument made. -- I think the industry claims that the use of BPA on metal packaging protects us from food poisoning and food contamination that would otherwise kill or sicken people were it not there. They put the stuff on cans for a reason, and it's not just to see what neat stuff it may or may not do to your body.
posted by crunchland at 11:06 AM on April 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think the industry claims that the use of BPA on metal packaging protects us from food poisoning and food contamination that would otherwise kill or sicken people were it not there.

You're making a much stronger version of the industry claims here than even the industry's own PR sites.

No one credible seems to be arguing that BPA, uniquely among all other alternatives, saves peoples lives from food contamination.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:23 AM on April 3, 2012


I really fucking hate when people try to lend scientific authority and credibility to support the commercial exploitations of science by manufacturing industries. It does more to hurt public faith in the integrity of science--and to contribute the perception that claims about scientific benefits are just so much marketing gloss--than just about any amount of anti-scientific, religious activism.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:26 AM on April 3, 2012


One of the labs in my building blew up a couple of years back doing something similar.

OK, I'll bite - how do you get an explosion from agar and technical grade ethanol? Cooking over an open flame, or what?
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 11:35 AM on April 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


"These epoxy resin coatings are critical to food safety. They protect against perforation of the can that might allow bacteria to contaminate the food. They also enable high-temperature food sterilization and long-term preservation in a durable, tamper resistant package. Put another way, epoxy-resins used in metal cans reduce the potential for serious illness. In fact, the USDA has not reported a single food-borne illness case in more than thirty years from the failure of epoxy-resin cans." : Dr. John Rost, North American Metal Packaging Alliance
posted by crunchland at 11:38 AM on April 3, 2012


Correction: the USFDA, not the USDA.
posted by crunchland at 11:39 AM on April 3, 2012


These epoxy resin coatings are critical to food safety.

Ah, gee, then too bad there aren't any BPA-free epoxy resins on the market to give consumers what they want.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:56 AM on April 3, 2012


So pet rocks are just fine. And a popular-consensus ban on pet rocks should be just fine, too, wasteful or dumb as it may be from an expert position. Otherwise it's not the consumers driving the markets.

Consumers drive the market by buying or not buying something. You can not buy something. You can't make me not buy something unless you can demonstrate it harms public safety. Consumers don't have a right to arbitrarily ban things they don't want sold. Otherwise I'd be petitioning the FCC to ban Michael Bay movies.

There are already long established bans on things I consider just this absurd, but I will continue to obtain those goods illicitly accept these bans humbly so long as there remains popular support for them because that's one of the costs of citizenship.

That's practically the definition of tyranny of the majority.
posted by kmz at 12:01 PM on April 3, 2012 [4 favorites]


Consumers drive the market by buying or not buying something. You can not buy something

You can't choose not to buy something that's only sold on the producers markets and if the producers all make the same choice (because its competitively advantageous to them) then that effectively eliminates the possibility of consumer choice influencing production practices in a lot of cases. Not everyone has access to all the markets involved in our economy.

That's practically the definition of tyranny of the majority.

So are laws against benign recreational drugs like marijuana. So are involuntary homeowners associations and all sorts of other realities in life.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:12 PM on April 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


We get it. You're pissed off because you can't buy pot, and so you want revenge on products that, despite everything, remain on the market.
posted by crunchland at 12:18 PM on April 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


saulgoodman, this is probably the link you were looking for.

The funding Dr. Daniel Schmidt obtained to do the work necessary to find that epoxy was wasted along with his time, this is a significant problem in and of itself. Besides, it doesn't look like he actually names his alternative anywhere so we can't even get a rough idea of how safe it is likely to be.

While BPA doesn't really fit that well into a hero narrative, that doesn't mean that it isn't an amazing and useful thing. So yes, because of BPA we can safely package beverages in cheap and recyclable cans that are trivially easy to use and haven't caused any food safety issues in 30 years. The work that went into developing BPA likely hasn't saved many lives1, but have you ever done something that cool?

Yes, we can also likely develop alternatives for each of the various food contacting uses of BPA, but there really isn't any reason to. You are right, this is ultimately a crazy and arbitrary thing to demand of industry, I'm just still not sure why exactly this is a good thing.

1I'm sure that an alternate universe without ubiquitous and sealed drinking water/fluids would be a heck of a lot more dangerous in natural disasters.
posted by Blasdelb at 12:18 PM on April 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


So are laws against benign recreational drugs like marijuana. So are involuntary homeowners associations and all sorts of other realities in life.

Are you saying that those are good things?
posted by kmz at 12:18 PM on April 3, 2012


BPA is just like any other chemical on the market... it has benefits and drawbacks... The problem with BPA and the other endocrine disruptors is that we don't fully understand the long-term chronic health effects in humans and more research is needed to determine "safe" levels for humans. Perhaps its ok for fully grown adults to consume BPA in trace amounts over many years with little noticeable effects.... but what about newborn children who are just developing?

For example: a 240 lb. male truck driver trucker challenges a 60 lb. kid to drink a 6 pack of beer in 2 hours... who will have a higher BAC at the end of the 2 hours? Is alcohol a "safe" chemical? What prompted the manufacturer to label booze with those warnings in the first place? Was it because they wanted the consumer to be aware or did science have to prove it caused birth defects?

Perhaps BPA has been protecting food for the last 30 years, but would the average consumer think its effecting them if it occurs so slowly that we don't notice an immediate effect? Has anyone is the US heard of this so called obesity epidemic.... Could this epidemic correlate to the widespread use of BPA?
posted by vinkoman at 12:24 PM on April 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


Besides, I'm not suggesting tryanny of the majority in all aspects of life. What I'm suggesting is that if there's a significant popular consensus about how some aspect of the production of a good should be done (a ban on adding filler water to meats to screw consumers by inflating the per pound cost of the product or other objectionable producer practices), then the only mechanism consumers have to influence those producer markets is regulation, and we should be willing to defer to the popular will in such cases, unless the result is to cause public harm. Forcing companies to have to shuffle their production mechanisms to try to keep up with the whims of the consumer is economically beneficial anyway; helps keep the money circulating into productive economic activity rather than piling up in Scrooge McDuck's vault.

Are you saying that those are good things?

No, but if we want a healthy relationship between producers and consumers in the markets, these are things I think we have to accept. Well, actually, the pot thing maybe not so much, since that ban goes beyond merely regulating some aspect of a production process. But still, in the interest of keeping the markets responsive, I say it's the obligation of producers to defer to consumers demands when there's a popular consensus, whether those demands are rational or not, so long as doing so doesn't actively cause more harm (from the public interest/consumer perspective).

Banning BPA offers nothing but benefit to consumers: it would create/redistribute the jobs necessary to develop and roll-out substitute materials, it would create opportunities for competing companies to enter the market with alternative offerings, it would give BPA-fearful consumers more peace of mind, and it would reinforce the public faith in the authority and ability of the state to regulate commerce. The only short-term losers would be the producers who've got everything set up the way they like it already, but they're supposed to be servants of the public--and the customer is always right.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:33 PM on April 3, 2012


Congratulations. It looks like you found a way around that not buying pot thing.
posted by crunchland at 12:44 PM on April 3, 2012


vinkoman, I would encourage you to read the FDA's response to the citizen's petition (PDF), it pretty thoroughly addresses your pharmacodynamic concerns. It is now clear that BPA is inactivated quickly and efficiently enough to be not detectable in blood, and that previous studies that showed otherwise likely suffered from sample contamination that is apparently really easy to get.

"Perhaps its ok for fully grown adults to consume BPA in trace amounts over many years with little noticeable effects.... but what about newborn children who are just developing?"

This has also been addressed in the literature
posted by Blasdelb at 12:48 PM on April 3, 2012


Congratulations. It looks like you found a way around that not buying pot thing.

I suppose you think its irrational for consumers to want a ban on the whole pink slime meat bi-product thing, too, just because the slime is probably "safe"? Even though using cheaper, inferior fillers in meats without the consent of the consumer is literally one of the oldest kinds of market-place fraud known to man, right alongside the butcher's putting his thumb on the scale.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:52 PM on April 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Banning BPA could "create opportunities for competing companies to enter the market with alternative offerings" but I don't believe that disruptive outcome is likely at all.

In my experience it would be the same gigantic chemical companies as always. What's more, these new formulations would likely be wrapped in protective layers of intellectual property, reinforcing the advantage of said megacorporations. The big companies would strive to possess some key intellectual property protections that would force cross-licensing and the oligopoly would be preserved.

Some shifting might occur, giving advantage to a company like DSM, with polyester expertise. But no brave little startup company is likely to emerge from the business ecology of modern chemical manufacturing.

Nice use of the creative destruction card; I'll grant you that. Not what I have come to expect on the blue.
posted by Glomar response at 1:18 PM on April 3, 2012


the whole pink slime meat bi-product thing -- Considering a recent Harvard study claims that eating all red meat is bad for you, I'm not sure why you're quibbling about a little hoof and ammonia gas.
posted by crunchland at 1:30 PM on April 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't eat red meat anyway (bad experience with it in Germany during the mad cow craze there in the 90s, when all the news coverage was of the cattle they were killing and burning in big heaps), so it's all good with me. Surreptitiously using fillers in products sold by weight used to be the kind of thing that would fetch you at least a flogging and a night in the stockades (if not a public hanging), though; it wasn't lauded as "free market innovation" at work.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:39 PM on April 3, 2012


But obviously BPA is a different subject. The point of the digression is that consumers need lots of power over producers and if that leads to occasional overreaches that cause producers some heart burn--well, when technological progress puts people out of perfectly good jobs we don't lose sleep over it. Some balance in the equation is called for.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:58 PM on April 3, 2012


So, screw science? If consumers want to believe lies, the market should cave to their whims, businesses should shutter, untried alternatives should be used instead of tested ones. And pot should be legalized. Check.
posted by crunchland at 2:03 PM on April 3, 2012


Thanks for seizing on my one attempt at humor to mock me there, crunchland. Sheesh.

Science shouldn't care if producer's use BPA-free epoxy resin or not. Why should it? If BPA were literally the only workable option, and there were clear public health consequences to not using it specifically, then science might be the deciding factor. But how is this particular case not a matter of a strong consumer preference that just really happens to inconvenience producers? And since consumers don't have any practical economic power to influence the market by voting with their dollars in this case (since the decision to use BPA or not is made before products get to the consumer markets), what mechanism should the market use to reflect this consumer preference if not regulation? Or should consumers just have to suck it up and take whatever they get?

Not screw science. This is not about science. It's about who's ultimately in charge of the markets and the state. If the people en mass want the stuff banned, and there's no scientific or compelling civil rights reason not to take that step, why should the state answer to the industry's needs first, when it's supposed to be answerable to the will of the people?
posted by saulgoodman at 2:23 PM on April 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


producers', dammit
posted by saulgoodman at 2:23 PM on April 3, 2012


and there's no scientific or compelling civil rights reason not to take that step

But there is no scientific or civil rights reason to take that step.

I really don't like tofu. I don't like that my wife keeps it in our house and eats it right in front of me. I can find you studies that show that too much tofu is bad for men because of estrogen levels (but if this is not about science then I don't care if you believe the studies or not). I could get many people who don't like tofu to sign a petition to ban it.

I'm sorry to anybody who likes tofu, but it will now be banned, because that's the only way to get Big Tofu to listen to the will of the people.
posted by Clinging to the Wreckage at 3:16 PM on April 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


People have a right to get what they want from the companies that serve them whether it's irrational or not. That's how free markets are supposed to work. Industries shouldn't just get to haul out experts to tell consumers why they should be grateful to get what they get, and the government shouldn't be in the business of siding with those experts. If there's a popular demand for a ban on BP

...

If there's a popular demand for a ban on BPA, and there are alternatives for consumers that aren't more environmentally harmful, I don't think expert opinion should necessarily rule the day. Regulation (when it actually reflects the public will) is one of the mechanisms consumers use to express their preferences in the marketplace
That seems completely insane to me. I mean, if you are able to successfully demonize some random chemical just if you can get enough people on tiwtter to type #banDHMO or whatever, what would prevent some chemical company with a new, patented product from spinning up a fear campaign about some random chemical that they want to replace.

Setting policy based on hysteria and non-science just seems like a ridiculous idea. If people are selling BPA free versions of stuff, then people can buy them.

Creating new government regulations for no reason beyond irrational hysteria seems like the most ridiculous way to go about creating laws. The idea that "regulation is a way for customers to express their preferences" is absolutely crazy. I doubt more then 10% of the population has even heard of BPA, so the idea that the concern is 'popular' seems dubious. If it truly were popular politicians would be all over banning it anyway.
What gets my goat is the arrogance of these producers, who insist they know better than their customer base
Do you seriously think the vast majority of the "customer base" has any idea what BPA even is? If it were truly unpopular, they would have removed it already. The reason they haven't is because not that many people are complaining and they apparently don't think it's very dangerous. How is it "arrogant" to not care what random paranoids think about some random chemical? There are people convinced wifi is giving them migraines, should companies also stop selling wireless networking tech because of those people? Seems ridiculous.
There's no default right to force a particular product on people
Yeah, except no one is forcing anyone on anything. People used BPA because it worked well. Why stop if there isn't any harm caused by it? People can choose more, the idea it should be banned simply to satiate a trendy hysteria is just absolutely crazy.
But consumers have every right to demand arbitrary, crazy things from industry
Customers have every right to ask for arbitrary, crazy things from industry in exchange for their money but they don't have a right to expect industry to actually give it to them, if it's not financially worth it. I can ask Toyota to sell me a Camry made out of solid gold but I wouldn't expect them to actually do it and why should I?

In fact, I'm sure gold would work well as a bottle liner, it's totally chemically neutral, and it's soft and ductile! What could be better!?
Ah, gee, then too bad there aren't any BPA-free epoxy resins on the market to give consumers what they want.
Sure, okay what happens when the public freaks out about one of those for no reason? Should they be banned in turn?

You are arguing for government by mass hysteria, that laws and regulations should be passed for no reason and that consumer society means corporations need to give customers whatever they want, even if it's just a small slice of the customer base that cares and even it would make them less money.
You can't choose not to buy something that's only sold on the producers markets and if the producers all make the same choice (because its competitively advantageous to them)
Yes, you can actually chose to go without that entire product class.
So are laws against benign recreational drugs like marijuana. So are involuntary homeowners associations and all sorts of other realities in life.
And those are all bad things. But they are implemented by politicians who are elected on those platforms, not by regulators who are following laws that require they use sound science.

We elect politicians that write laws that require organizations like the FDA to write rules based on sound science, because that seems like a good way to do things. These rules were put in place by a democratic majority. No one is stopping you from running for office on an anti-BPA ticket. But you wouldn't get very far because, like I said, no one outside of the paranoid types gives a shit.
Perhaps BPA has been protecting food for the last 30 years, but would the average consumer think its effecting them if it occurs so slowly that we don't notice an immediate effect? Has anyone is the US heard of this so called obesity epidemic.... Could this epidemic correlate to the widespread use of BPA?
I believe we hit peak fat a couple of years ago, I'd say it has more to do with, you know, the shitload of sugar we eat (And Sucrose is just as bad as HFCS, people who think they are being 'healthy' by eating sucrose laden crap instead of HFCS laden crap are delusional)
Besides, I'm not suggesting tryanny of the majority in all aspects of life. What I'm suggesting is that if there's a significant popular consensus about how some aspect of the production of a good should be done
If there is a large enough constituency, then that constituency will be able to elect politicians to carry out whatever delusional flight of hysterical fancy it finds itself swept up into. On the other hand, there is always going to be an electoral constituency that thinks the best way to implement regulation is to hire scientists to research this stuff, and then do whatever they say.

Are there problems with the current system? Sure, but most people think the solution is better science, not the abandonment of science.
Banning BPA offers nothing but benefit to consumers:
FTFY.
I suppose you think its irrational for consumers to want a ban on the whole pink slime meat bi-product thing, too, just because the slime is probably "safe"?
Yes, it's irrational to want to ban something that they're already not buying. Maybe some people like pink slime? How is pink slime any different then ground beef, which people like, except with chicken instead of beef?

You are going beyond customer choice, and demanding that you should be able to make choices for other people. You're saying that because you don't like pink slime, you should be able to decide for me that I shouldn't be able to buy any pink-slime products?

The reality is, people like the taste pink slime nuggets when they are batter dipped and deep-fat fried.. Jame Oliver did an experiment where he made nuggets in front of kids from pink slime. Of course as he was making it the kids were all 'ew gross', but when he was done he asked if they wanted to eat them. All the kids raised their hands.
the whole pink slime meat bi-product thing -- Considering a recent Harvard study claims that eating all red meat is bad for you, I'm not sure why you're quibbling about a little hoof and ammonia gas.
Except pink slime is made from chicken, so it's probably healthier for you then 100% organic grass fed kobe beef.
But how is this particular case not a matter of a strong consumer preference that just really happens to inconvenience producers?
Non BPA products are on the market. Are they outselling BPA products? If not, then there isn't even a real customer preference, except for a handful of people who don't trust science.
posted by delmoi at 4:31 PM on April 3, 2012 [5 favorites]


Except pink slime is made from chicken, so it's probably healthier for you then 100% organic grass fed kobe beef. -- Nope.
posted by crunchland at 4:36 PM on April 3, 2012


Er wait, according to wikipedia pink slime is based on beef, not chicken. Which would make it red meat, I guess. I swear I heard that pink slime was made to make chicken nuggets. I guess that was inaccurate.
posted by delmoi at 4:36 PM on April 3, 2012


Okay, I guess I was confusing "Pink Slime" and "Mechanically separated chicken" the iconic image that people often use to illustrate "pink slime" is actually mechanically separated chicken. So I'd see that image with people saying "this is what they use to make nuggets!". I always thought that stuff was what people were referring to when they talked about "Pink slime"

In fact, if you do a Google image search for "pink slime" that picture is what comes up first, It's a pretty common representation - in fact I think the most common. In fact true pink slime actually just looks like a lighter colored version of ground beef.
posted by delmoi at 4:46 PM on April 3, 2012


One other thing about pink slime, it looks like one manufacturer is going bankrupt, and claiming that there is no more interest in the product. Which is an example of the market working the way saulgoodman would like.

But it was never the case that you couldn't get beef without pink slime. You could buy your own ground beef or grind it yourself from steaks. So why the need for a legal ban if it wasn't unhealthy (or unhealthier then other red meats)?

Anyway, what I was going to say was that there are basically two ways to get something off the market

1) Either enough people stop buying it or

2) make it a big enough issue that democratically elected politicians force the issue, even if it's not backed by science.

Right now the way it works is that politicians write laws that say the FDA or other regulatory agencies should make decisions based on sound science. If this is what the scientists come up with, then that's what should be used.

It sounds like the idea is we should change the laws so that public outrage should be a consideration of the FDA, not just science. Which means the constituency who thinks government should be based on sound science alone would actually be your political opponents, and the way to beat them politically would be to undermine public confidence in science overall. That seems like a pretty terrible idea, overall.
posted by delmoi at 5:56 PM on April 3, 2012


But it was never the case that you couldn't get beef without pink slime. You could buy your own ground beef or grind it yourself from steaks.

Actually, this was a significant part of the pink slime backlash: ground beef in supermarkets was adulterated with pink slime, without customers' knowledge. So for a while there people who thought they were buying 100% pure ground beef were actually getting 80% ground beef mixed with 20% ammonia-treated beef.

The BPA thing went so fast in Canada and Europe that by the time governments had done anything, the market had already shifted: bottle companies were desperate to advertise their BPA-free products, and sales of stainless steel water bottles exploded. The market "worked" regardless of the truth of the medical concerns. I think the USA is interesting in its fuck-you approach to consumer demand in that respect.
posted by mek at 6:10 PM on April 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


It sounds like the idea is we should change the laws so that public outrage should be a consideration of the FDA, not just science. Which means the constituency who thinks government should be based on sound science alone would actually be your political opponents, and the way to beat them politically would be to undermine public confidence in science overall. That seems like a pretty terrible idea, overall.

No, the idea is a very clear and specific one, that I've elaborated quite clearly several times now: If a majority of consumers have a concern regarding some aspect of a pre-consumer producer market, the governments role should be to act on the behalf of consumers because consumer spending can't necessarily influence those markets, which can constrain consumer choice in ways that are nasty and undesirable--leading to things like all our clothes being produced in sweatshops and no real economic lever for consumers to use to prevent it, seeing as it's due to near universal producer agreement in the pre-consumer markets that go into making the products they sell on the consumer markets.

My position is exactly this, no more and no less: if there is overwhelming popular demand (and I mean clear majorities, like I believe there may be in the case of BPA) for a regulatory restriction on some aspect of those pre-consumer producer markets that aren't properly subject to the influence of end-consumer choice, then the governments default position, unless there's a compelling public interest in conflict (public health, etc.) with the demand, should be to side with the public and not the industry.

Sure, there's some dispute over the science surrounding bPAs. What science around an industrial product isn't endlessly in dispute? It doesn't matter though, because really no one is arguing we literally couldn't manage or would suffer serious health problems or other harm if BPA were banned. What they're arguing is that it would be hard on industry. And I say, tough. The sole responsibility of the government is to be responsive and responsible to the public it serves. Industry, likewise, in a properly functioning market, should answer to the demands of the consumers it serves first, regardless of whether or not that's easiest for their business models. The government shouldn't be in the business of propping up failed business models if there isn't a compelling public interest to do so. If there truly aren't any workable alternatives to BPA--and it isn't just the case that retooling would be costlier and inconvenience a lot of producers--then it makes sense the government shouldn't impose a ban.

But industry that balks at and then finally just refuses to give its consumers what they demand is crap, either way.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:58 PM on April 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Non BPA products are on the market. Are they outselling BPA products?

Where they are available on the consumer markets, yes, they are vastly outselling BPA products. It's only the producers' markets that are left now, and as I've explained, those markets aren't really responsive to consumer demand which is why a ban IMO might be justified in this case.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:01 PM on April 3, 2012


Ban nothing. Simply make laws to massively improve the labeling, with rules for how each component in the food must be named, including packaging chemicals and processing methods/sources, with extremely high consequences and readily-available sources for mapping those components to information about them. If you want the "free market" to work, you need to have transparency, and the biggest problem (at least in the US) is how easily producers can hidethe simple facts of what they're selling.
posted by davejay at 7:07 PM on April 3, 2012


Simply make laws to massively improve the labeling

North America can't even be bothered to enforce GMO labelling. In the States you can technically slap a "fat free!" label on a bottle of pure HFCS. Truth in advertising is long dead.
posted by mek at 7:22 PM on April 3, 2012


Of course you can. Sugar is converted into fat (and also energy) by our metabolism, but it certainly isn't fat to begin with. That's not really much of a technicality.
posted by maryr at 7:35 PM on April 3, 2012


mek, Karo syrup is indeed fat free. I'm not sure what the problem with labeling it as such might be.
posted by Blasdelb at 7:37 PM on April 3, 2012


I'm not sure what the problem with labeling it as such might be.

The problem is that a not insignificant portion of the population believes that eating fat free products will prevent them from getting fat, and permitting unhealthy foodstuffs to be promoted by companies as apparently not unhealthy is certainly not helping anyone. Permitting candy in particular to be labelled "fat free" clearly only serves the purpose of deceiving the consumer.
posted by mek at 7:55 PM on April 3, 2012


Curiously, I did find this just now while looking for some high-level info on conversion of different basic food constituents into fat. It does make the labeling of HFCS as "fat-free" kind of amusing. Technically true, but as mek suggests, the combination of being beside the point and contrary to the purchaser's intended reading of the labeling makes it damn near as good as a lie.
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:15 PM on April 3, 2012


Simply make laws to massively improve the labeling, with rules for how each component in the food must be named, including packaging chemicals and processing methods/sources, with extremely high consequences and readily-available sources for mapping those components to information about them. If you want the "free market" to work, you need to have transparency, and the biggest problem (at least in the US) is how easily producers can hide the simple facts of what they're selling.

I mostly agree, but after a while, you run out of room on the labels! Where do you put the information about where the aluminum lining the rim of a cup of soup container came from so that it isn't all just information overload?

And there will still be cases when the producers markets simply won't respond to consumer demand and producers will buy raw materials as fungible goods on commodities markets. Fungibility of raw materials is seen as a feature of these markets, not a bug, and yet, that very feature neutralizes any practical economic possibility of end-consumer influencing the way raw materials are extracted and processed for industrial production processes. How can end consumers influence the producer markets at all? If all the big mass market packaging manufacturers decide to go with BPA, there's not even an opportunity for consumers to influence those decisions before the products come to market, whether they get a list of ingredients and sources on the end product or not.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:22 PM on April 3, 2012


If a majority of consumers have a concern regarding some aspect of a pre-consumer producer market, the governments role should be to act on the behalf of consumers

So if a majority of people developed a concern about food produced by nonwhites, because there is "some dispute" of the science surrounding the disease-spreading capabilities of nonwhites, the government ought to respond by banning nonwhites from food production. This would inconvenience food producers, but help consumers express their preferences and avoid food products that, while probably harmless, they have concerns about.

Your idea would also say that if a majority of consumers are concerned about the influence of Jews and liberals in entertainment, for whatever misbegotten reason, then the government ought to enshrine that sentiment into a ban as well since that's also a preconsumer producer market for personnel.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:04 PM on April 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


The BPA thing went so fast in Canada and Europe that by the time governments had done anything, the market had already shifted: bottle companies were desperate to advertise their BPA-free products, and sales of stainless steel water bottles exploded. The market "worked" regardless of the truth of the medical concerns. I think the USA is interesting in its fuck-you approach to consumer demand in that respect.
Again, like I said, it's not all that clear that consumers in the US really 'demanded' it. In EU-wide BPA is only banned in baby bottles, not globally. The same thing is true in Canada only BPA baby bottles are banned, as far as I can tell. From Wikipedia:
The federal government proposed declaring Bisphenol A a hazardous substance in October 2008 and has since placed it on its list of toxic substances. Health officials wrote in Canada Gazette that "It is concluded that bisphenol A be considered as a substance that may be entering the environment in a quantity or concentration or under conditions that constitute or may constitute a danger in Canada to human life or health."[206] The federal ministries of health and the environment announced they would seek to restrict imports, sales and advertising of polycarbonate baby bottles containing BPA.[207]
I didn't go through and look at the regulations for each European country, separate from the EU.

Looking at the section on U.S it does seem like many companies stop selling baby bottles with BPA and several states banned them. So certainly if you want a baby bottle without BPA you can get one. In other countries non baby bottle products with BPA are not actually banned.
No, the idea is a very clear and specific one, that I've elaborated quite clearly several times now: If a majority of consumers have a concern regarding some aspect of a pre-consumer producer market, the governments role should be to act on the behalf of consumers because consumer spending can't necessarily influence those markets
Right, and I think that's completely ridiculous. First of all, you haven't demonstrated that a majority of customers care about BPA. It's hard to believe that if a majority of people wanted to avoid BPA they couldn't find alternatives. I mean, you can buy gluten free pizza and all kinds of crazy stuff I mean you can buy a pnumatic headphones for people who are afraid of having electrical coils near their heads (of course I'm sure these same people are totally into magnet therapy)

If you can buy headphones that don't use electricity, how is it possible that you can't buy products without BPA?

So that's the first problem the assumption that a majority of customers care about BPA.

The second problem is the idea that appointed regulators should regulate industry based on pure whim. Again, people elect legislators, legislators write legislation, and regulators apply the regulation.

What I don't understand is why you think regulators should make decisions based on hysteria and urban legends rather then sound science. That, to me, is insane. The idea that we should make up rules and regulations for no rational reason because people have a bug up their ass about something.

This kind of thing can be handled at the legislative level. Nixon's science board recommended marijuana not be banned, but it happened for no rational reason, because legislators don't need to act based on science.

Clearly that was a total win for democracy and has made America a better place! We should totally have more stuff like that! *rolls eyes*

But anyway, the option to ban things for no reason is there, but it's at the legislative level, not the regulatory level. Someone could write a law banning BPA tomorrow if they wanted too.
Curiously, I did find this just now while looking for some high-level info on conversion of different basic food constituents into fat. It does make the labeling of HFCS as "fat-free" kind of amusing.
Yeah, that is insane. All sugars can be metabolized into fat. So can everything else that has calories. If HFCS isn't "fat free" then nothing is.

---
In Korea all fans come with timers that stop them after some period of time so that you don't leave them on all night. Why? Because many people in Korea believe that fans suck oxygen out of the air and will cause suffocation if left on. I don't think there's any law that requires fans to be sold with the timers, but the mostly have them. Clearly when the majority of people have some irrational fear, "the market" will be happy to oblige, despite the extra cost and electronics required for the timer.

So yeah, I just don't believe a majority of customers care about BPA. Do you have any citations or anything to back up this claim?
posted by delmoi at 12:26 AM on April 4, 2012


If HFCS isn't "fat free" then nothing is.

This is getting deraily, but my complaint is that "fat free" is placed on products where it has no real relevance to the product, simply to imply to consumers that it is healthy in some way. "Fat free" sugar is meaningless because there is no high-fat sugar alternative - all sugar is potentially fattening, but none of it contains fat. In some cases it's worse than useless: "fat free" yogurts can be either thickened with milk protein or starch: the latter is much worse for you, but you have to check the ingredients. But I can legally clone the labelling of a natural yogurt for my "fat free" cornstarch-based yogurt-like product and rely on consumer confusion for sales.

Packaging is way out of control these days, chock full of nonsense terms like "hypoallergenic". Companies are currently greenwashing the everloving shit out of any product they think will benefit from it, with a bunch of legally vacuous terms: "farm fresh," "all natural," "ethically produced," etc... heck there's a whole category of chicken-specific bullshit labelling like "free roaming," "hormone-free" and "naturally-raised," all of which mean exactly nothing whatsoever. Now extrapolate out across the entire consumer market: there is so much of this shit it will make your head spin.

This is exactly what regulatory agencies are for, but they haven't been doing their jobs for a long time now. That's why consumer choice is nearly irrelevant.
posted by mek at 1:47 AM on April 4, 2012


Packaging is way out of control these days, chock full of nonsense terms like "hypoallergenic". Companies are currently greenwashing the everloving shit out of any product they think will benefit from it, with a bunch of legally vacuous terms: "farm fresh," "all natural," "ethically produced," etc... heck there's a whole category of chicken-specific bullshit labelling like "free roaming," "hormone-free" and "naturally-raised," all of which mean exactly nothing whatsoever. Now extrapolate out across the entire consumer market: there is so much of this shit it will make your head spin.
There was a metafilter thread a couple years ago where people were outraged! that some milk producers weren't being allowed to put "pesticide free" and "antibiotic free" on their milk, despite the fact that no milk should contain pesticides (and according to people in the thread, all milk is tested for antibiotics and dumped if they are present)

Also, hormone free makes no sense, since wouldn't all animal meat/eggs/milk contain animal hormones? and even fruits and vegetables contain plant hormones.
posted by delmoi at 3:03 AM on April 4, 2012


(Oh, the specific labels were to let people know they contained no artificial hormones, while some people in the thread were talking about 'hormone free' in general)
posted by delmoi at 3:04 AM on April 4, 2012


Neil Armstrong never walked on the moon

This is true. I watched the video footage and that lucky bastard was skipping!
posted by srboisvert at 8:08 AM on April 4, 2012


This is getting deraily -- getting?
posted by crunchland at 8:27 AM on April 4, 2012


Setting policy based on hysteria and non-science just seems like a ridiculous idea.

This has nothing to do with the fact that there's a lot of science supporting a BPA ban, including science taken seriously by countries other than the US. Ask yourself why the US is claiming BPA is safe where Canada and European nations are not. Do you have a patriotci duty to trust your national regulator in these cases?
posted by mobunited at 9:58 AM on April 4, 2012


Also, hormone free makes no sense

Yeah, it doesn't make any sense... there are no hormones approved for use in chickens, but there are plenty of chickens labelled "hormone-free" despite that. Of course BGH is used in cattle in the USA and banned from use in Canada and Europe, and that kind of thing aboslutely should be labelled. (Instead you get a disclaimer on all dairy and meat products indicating the FDA thinks there is nothing wrong with BGH so fuck you.)
posted by mek at 11:22 AM on April 4, 2012


@ Blasdelb,

FDA wraps up their response by saying:

"FDA has determined, as a matter of science and regulatory policy, that the best course of
action at this time is to continue our, review and study of emerging data on BPA. Because
the information provided in your petition was not sufficient to persuade FDA, at this
time, to initiate rulemaking to prohibit the use of BPA in human food and food
packaging, or to revoke all regulations permitting the use of any food additive that may
result in BPA becoming a component of food, FDA is denying your petition in
accordance with 21 CFR 10.30(e)(3). FDA is performing, monitoring, and reviewing
new studies and data as they become available, and depending on the results, any of these
studies or data could influence FDA’s assessment and future regulatory decisions about
BPA."

Translation: "There are known knowns; there are things we know we know.
We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – there are things we do not know we don't know."

In summary the response from the FDA says BPA is a "known unknown", that they can't support the NOAEL level or the petition because more scientific data is needed, specifically for Humans (not animals). They don't say its safe, just that they need more evidence to conclude its not. Considering NTP listed formaldehyde as a "known carcinogen" in 2009, I wouldn't use the speed of the federal government as a good indicator of safety. How many people had to get cancer from formaldehyde before they changed the listing? I think that that because EDC's have "nonmonotonic dose–response curves" its a troubling thought to wait for for the feds to take action. PEL's for OSHA haven't even been updated in quite a while and when they did, they got shot down by industry...
posted by vinkoman at 11:44 AM on April 4, 2012


vinkoman, I have lost friends and mentors to cancers almost certainly caused by exposure to formaldehyde. The DHHS isn't perfect, but in this case the FDA is indeed right.

To say that all known unknowns should be banned is ridiculous, we also know that we don't really know whether or not agar causes endocrine disruption, as I'm sure no one has studied it. However, there is absolutely no reason to think so.

There is absolutely no evidence that BPA, in the levels that leech out of epoxy resins into food, causes harm of any kind to people. Additionally, from our current understanding of BPA pharmacokenetics, there also is no longer a solid theoretical basis for postulating any harm. Three years ago there was perhaps good reason to ban BPA in products intended for infants, as the Europeans and Canadians did, but the FDA sat on their asses and proved to be right in doing so. We now know that levels of BPA in the bloodstream do not exist in the kinds of concentrations necessary to do established harm.

Is it still worth studying? Absolutely. Is it worth freaking out over, disrupting our economy, and distracting our engineers? Absolutely not.
posted by Blasdelb at 12:17 PM on April 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is it worth freaking out over, disrupting our economy, and distracting our engineers? Absolutely not.

Bull. That's up to consumers only. The engineers work for them. And except in rare cases, the economy would benefit from the disruption.

Beta was a better technology than VHS.

But neither of them are on the market today. Preventing the market from improving its offerings through industry protective policy and deregulation impedes economic (and ultimately, scientific) progress.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:42 AM on April 5, 2012


And before someone says, "Let consumers vote with their wallets, then, like they did with VHS or BETA,' let me reiterate: in the baby bottle and other consumer markets where consumers have a direct choice not to buy BPA containing products, consumers have overwhelmingly voted with their wallets against it.

It's only in the pre-consumer, producer's markets--which the public can only influence through advocacy for regulation--that BPA is still prevalent.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:16 PM on April 5, 2012


No one is preventing anyone from coming up with an alternative. I'm sure if someone comes up with an alternative, puts it through the proper testing, and could guarantee its safety, they'd probably make a mint. Don't you suppose that manufacturers would prefer to use a product that didn't have all this hysteria attached to it? I'm certain that they're currently working on some new formulation that will calm all the jitters of a confused and misled population. But until that time, they'll keep using the perfectly adequate product that's already available.
posted by crunchland at 12:21 PM on April 5, 2012


Don't you suppose that manufacturers would prefer to use a product that didn't have all this hysteria attached to it?

What market pressure is there to bring to bear on them? Why should they care?

If someone hadn't forced them to stop, CFC product manufacturers would have continued using CFCs in everything and we would have ended up with a hole in the ozone big enough to destroy the earth's capacity for carrying life. I guess you could argue the science was on the side of the regulation in that case, but even when there was that strong of an incentive to change--the knowledge that not changing could very literally kill us all--manufacturers didn't want to change their practices. Why on earth would they care enough to stop using BPAs if it literally can't hurt their bottom line to ignore the consumers?
posted by saulgoodman at 1:28 PM on April 5, 2012


What market pressure is there to bring to bear on them? Why should they care? -- How about all the sales they're losing because people are avoiding BPA because they've been told that it causes cancer, or other health issues? Every time someone buys a BPA-free bottle, it perpetuates the falsehood. And considering the automatic dismissal by people who hear that the FDA has deemed the material safe, and refuse to believe it, flat-earther style, you don't think that's incentive enough?
posted by crunchland at 2:34 PM on April 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Bull. That's up to consumers only. The engineers work for them. And except in rare cases, the economy would benefit from the disruption.
Again, you're making it sound like slavery or something. Everyone has the right to say "no" to demands if they want too. Engineers, companies, whoever. If they don't feel like making changes, that's their choice.

Plus, you still haven't provided any citation showing that a majority of customers want BPA free stuff, or even know what it is.
If someone hadn't forced them to stop, CFC product manufacturers would have continued using CFCs in everything and we would have ended up with a hole in the ozone big enough to destroy the earth's capacity for carrying life.


That was sound science. If it was simply a case of people believing that CFCs would cause ozone layer depletion, despite scientific evidence showing it wouldn't.

That's the difference

1) Science says CFCs cause ozone holes. Ban it.
2) Science says BPA is safe: don't ban it.
3) Science says Marijuana is safe: ban it anyway.

Except, in that case it wasn't banned by regulators charged with banning things on the basis of sound science, but rather by politicians who were looking to score points with people who hated hippies.
posted by delmoi at 6:54 PM on April 5, 2012


No one is preventing anyone from coming up with an alternative. I'm sure if someone comes up with an alternative, puts it through the proper testing, and could guarantee its safety, they'd probably make a mint.
There are things like water water bottles and other containers that are BPA free. that particular company uses silicone instead, which is another chemical that some people are scared off, ironically.

Part of the problem with avoiding BPA is that it's in food packaging. So if you buy canned whatever, likely that can has BPA in it. So finding food that doesn't have BPA might be difficult. But if you only eat veggies and fresh, organic meat you should be OK.

In fact, what are the products you can't get a BPA free version of? It's never been specified.
posted by delmoi at 6:59 PM on April 5, 2012


Forbes : Despite their confidence that their product packaging is completely safe, Campbell's Soup is bowing to market pressure and has announced that it will phase out Bisphenol-A in it's soup cans. ”The overwhelming weight of scientific evidence shows that the use of BPA in can lining poses no threat to human health. That being said, we understand that consumers may have concerns about it. We’re very aware of the debate and we’re watching it intently.”
posted by crunchland at 7:32 PM on April 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Part of the problem with avoiding BPA is that it's in food packaging. So if you buy canned whatever, likely that can has BPA in it. So finding food that doesn't have BPA might be difficult. But if you only eat veggies and fresh, organic meat you should be OK.

Have you read a damn word I've written? That's my whole point.

Where the consumer market has a voice on this issue, consumers have resoundingly voted against BPAs--but the nature of the markets leaves a gap that consumer choice can't touch in the pre-consumer, producers' markets. That's why I think a ban is not necessarily an unreasonable step in this case.

crunchland: Nobody has to let themselves be forced to buy a product they don't want either. Your mythical engineers are doing work for hire. They can't expect to get paid for making a product consumers don't want just because, due to a quirk in the way the markets work, consumers don't have any power to buy many of the things they need without also buying that unwanted product.

We can just keep going around and around on this forever, but IMO, you're getting the way markets are supposed to work--i.e., driven by consumer demand rather than the interests of the producers--exactly backwards.

This isn't about "science"; it's about commerce, so quit playing the "superstitious natives" card. It's condescending and completely misplaced.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:14 PM on April 6, 2012


”The overwhelming weight of scientific evidence shows that the use of BPA in can lining poses no threat to human health. That being said, we understand that consumers may have concerns about it. We’re very aware of the debate and we’re watching it intently.”

Ah ha! So it is possible to give consumers what they want without realigning the sun to orbit the earth and faking the moon landing.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:15 PM on April 6, 2012


I don't think BPA is entirely out of the woods as of yet. It may well contribute to type-2 diabetes according to a study just released in PLoS ONE in February.

Heck if you scroll trough the search for BPA at PLos ONE there are a significant number of current and recent articles that raise concerns.

I would wager this is not the last the FDA will have to address it.
posted by edgeways at 12:38 PM on April 6, 2012


Ah ha! So it is possible to give consumers what they want without realigning the sun to orbit the earth and faking the moon landing.

Yes, and in exactly the way you've been saying is not possible. They specifically cite market pressure not government regulation for the change. They listened to consumers who wanted the change even though they note that science doesn't agree. And Campbell's is a not-insignificant percentage of the cans at the grocery store, so it's entirely possible that others will follow.

I still disagree with the change and agree with the science, but if it's going to change, this is the way it should be changed - unless solid science shows there to be a risk of harm at some point.
posted by Clinging to the Wreckage at 1:34 PM on April 6, 2012


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