Political Science: BPA and the FDA

The FDA will soon release its latest findings on the plastic-strengthening chemical, bisphenol A (BPA).  As I’ve written before, BPA’s supposed health risks have been highly publicized to the benefit of both businessmen and politicians—so much to their benefit, in fact, that it would be hard to believe all the rumors even if the FDA, EPA, and numerous independent studies hadn’t already declared the chemical harmless.

BPA is just one example of the many ways in which science has historically been shaped by political concerns.  Unfortunately, this misuse of the discipline isn’t going to end anytime soon, especially if media outlets get their way.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and the LA Times in particular have stated that the FDA ought to rule the chemical unsafe—and that it ought to do so before the new study comes out in the next few days or weeks.  If the new study does prove that BPA is definitely harmful, then plastics containing the chemical should by all means be pulled from shelves.  If there really is a danger here, something must be done about it – but danger seems unlikely given current research.

What does seem likely is that people will continue to take advantage of BPA’s carefully crafted poor reputation in order to advance their own political careers and agendas.  I’ve written before about Senator Schumer’s BPA-free Kids Act, which would ban the chemical from all food and beverage containers intended for use by children, thus tremendously boosting those companies that manufacture BPA-free products—many of which, by the way, work with Fenton Communications, the public relations firm behind the “General Betray Us” ads.  Now Wisconsin is also considering a pre-emptive ban:

Madison — The sponsor of a state bill to ban bisphenol A in baby bottles and sippy cups said Wednesday she is confident there is enough support to institute such a ban in Wisconsin.

State Sen. Julie Lassa (D-Stevens Point) said a Senate committee vote on the matter could come in the next few weeks.

Meanwhile, the Assembly’s Committee on Consumer Protection held a 2 ½ -hour hearing Wednesday on the merits of the bill. Health advocates spoke in support of the measure, noting that the chemical has been linked to breast cancer, reproductive failures, behavioral problems, obesity and sexual dysfunction.

Food manufacturing representatives and chemical industry employees, including Steve Hentges, the chief lobbyist for the chemical makers, urged the committee to turn down the bill. He said science does not show any danger to human health. He noted that no government agency has found BPA to be of concern.

Politicians should not rely on unproven scientific claims to advance their own agendas.  The FDA should not ban a substance that its own researchers have so far declared harmless, and it should not compromise the objectivity of its upcoming report with such a declaration.  Science and politics have always had trouble mixing well, but scientists should especially take note when their findings stand to benefit – or decimate – so many financial and political interests.

Image credit xkcd.com