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

No On David Michaels: A Chance to End the Sale of Science

When scientific evidence becomes a commodity, it is cheapened and easily misused, making it difficult for anyone to sort life-saving facts from fiction.  Remember this story about the “scientifically based” scare tactics used to market Bisphenol A -free plastics?  Thanks to the efforts of Fenton Communications, the liberal marketing firm behind the “General Betray Us” campaign, BPA has a bad reputation, especially among parents who worry the chemical may harm their children.  These parents pay exorbitant prices for BPA-free products, despite the fact that numerous independent studies have proven the chemical’s safety.  Many of these more expensive products come from BornFree, the company that hired Fenton Communications.  BornFree makes money every time the BPA controversy comes up in the news; they benefit from phony scientific evidence.

Unfortunately, we may see more of this in the near future.

An editorial in yesterday’s Washington Times highlights David Michaels, President Obama’s nominee to head the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA).

The Times describes Mr. Michaels as “a virulently anti-business epidemiologist” who “is one the nation’s foremost proponents of allowing junk science to be used in jackpot-justice lawsuits.”

It turns out David Michaels was also behind the anti-BPA junk-science scare campaign which has cost Americans untold numbers of jobs and has lined the pockets of trial lawyers with millions of dollars from the pockets of hard-working parents who bought into his fear campaign.

Mr. Michaels has admitted that the phony-science racket works well for sellers:

“Tobacco figured this out, and essentially it’s the same model,” said David Michaels, who was a federal regulator in the Clinton administration. “If you fight the science, you’re able to postpone regulation and victim compensation, as well. As in this case, eventually the science becomes overwhelming. But if you can get five or 10 years of avoiding pollution control or production of chemicals, you’ve greatly increased your product.”

No one benefits when science is prostituted in this way. Everyone loses when scientific evidence can be bought and sold as a commodity because this weakens even the most legitimate findings, making it difficult to distinguish between real and invented dangers.

President Obama has pledged to “restore science to its rightful place”, and happily his administration now has a perfect opportunity to do so.  The Senate must help end the lucrative sale of scientific claims by rejecting David Michaels’ nomination to head OSHA. ‘

BPA: One less thing to worry about

Fear sells.  No one knows this better than advertisers, whose aggressive marketing content is unconsciously absorbed by millions of consumers who don’t – or can’t – think critically about what advertisers tell them.

That’s why it’s such a shame when advertisers and marketing firms invent false crises in order to exploit these unprepared consumers.  BPA-free baby products, for example, are all the rage right now.  These products fly off the shelves, bought largely by parents who are afraid their children may be harmed by the chemical.

In fact, BPA is not dangerous.  A California regulatory board (made up of physicians) ruled last week that “California will not place Bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical used in the manufacture of plastic baby bottles and toys, on the state’s list of chemicals that are believed to cause reproductive harm.”

This comes on the heels of a new Statistical Assessment Service study out of George Mason University, which found the risks were “misleading and caused unnecessary public anxiety.”

So why have so many parents been scared into buying only the more expensive BPA-free products?

Rob Port recently noted that this all traces back to Fenton Communications, the same PR firm that was behind the ‘General Betray Us’ ads:

“Putting aside the fact that the claims were entirely bogus, the fear campaign against BPA was a brilliant business move for Fenton-and a win/win/win for liberals.  David Fenton… represents many radical environmental groups like the San Francisco-based Tides Foundation, who could benefit from creating a bogey man.  And he also represents trial lawyers, who could make millions by bringing about class action lawsuits against the manufacturers of plastics.  Lastly, trial lawyers are major donors to Democratic politicians, so getting them on board was easy.  And plastics competitors who didn’t use BPA could now charge absurd prices for their products at upscale stores like Whole Foods, based on the fact that their product (though more expensive) was ostensibly “safer.”

And Townhall.com’s Dwayne Horner noted,

Of course, leftist environmental groups like Environmental Working Group (EWG), Center for Health, the Tides Foundation, Environment & Justice (CHEJ), and others have been funding research to advance this agenda.  Sadly, the phony science was aided by journalists and politicians, despite the fact that numerous independently funded studies have found BPA to be entirely safe.

Ultimately, parents – not children –  have suffered from this.  Aside from worrying unnecessarily that they might have exposed their child to dangerous chemicals, parents have spent outrageous amounts of money on non-BPA products.

As National Journal reported,

Ron Vigdor, the founder and CEO of BornFree, sells trust. More precisely, he sells baby bottles for about $5.50 that are guaranteed to contain no bisphenol A, a chemical that is widely used in $1 baby bottles.

…Vigdor began selling his bottles in Whole Foods grocery stores in 2006, and his production capacity has grown to 1 million a year. The established companies – which sell about 60 million baby bottles annually – are now marketing their own BPA-free bottles and cutting production of older models.

… To boost press coverage, Vigdor hired Fenton Communications, which specializes in political advocacy and was already engaged with other anti-BPA outfits, such as the Environmental Working Group.  Vigdor’s    market gets a boost every time the media publicize a report on BPA’s possible hazards…

Parents may not need to worry about the BPA content of baby bottles and car seats anymore, but they do need to worry about dishonest marketing tactics.  Parents should certainly protect their children from dangerous chemicals, but they should also learn how to inoculate them against deceptive sales tactics. ‘