BPA In Plastic Packaging Under The Microscope

The high quality of modern packaging has allowed consumers to have the utmost confidence in the integrity of the contents, so any issue that causes us to question that confidence is a concern worth investigating. Recent world-wide media reports of possible contamination of polycarbonate baby bottles saw the Canadian government prohibit the importation, sale and advertising of this product. The offending substance that triggered this response is BPA or Bisphenol A, an industrial chemical used in the lining of food and beverage packaging which protects the contents from coming into contact with metal. Depending on the type of packaging and the food itself, some chemicals in food packaging can transfer across to the food.

Food packaging suppliers must make sure their products meet the Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) requirements. FSANZ has established that the Tolerable Daily Intake (TDI) for BPA, an internationally established safe level, is very low and is not a significant risk to human health for any age group, infants included.

Further studies by both the European Food Safety Authority and the World Health Organisation confirmed that, even though some studies had indicated that low exposure levels to BPA could produce adverse health effects, there was no need at this stage to revise the current TDI.

The difficulty for the scientific community in coming up with a definitive answer is that the studies so far, which have all been conducted on laboratory animals, are inconclusive, with one study indicating some effect on the reproductive system, and another showing no effect. The other overriding consideration is that BPA does not stay in the body but is quickly eliminated through urine. There is no evidence that BPA causes cancer.

Australia and New Zealand have followed the lead of the Canadian Government and also moved to phase out polycarbonate plastic baby bottles through a voluntary approach taken up by major retailers. This commenced on 1 July 2010 and there are now many BPA-free options on the market. Again, this is a response to consumer demand and not an issue of product safety.

Further tests were conducted by FSANZ on a range of foods and beverages including infant formula and foods packaged in polycarbonate plastics, steel cans with epoxy lining and glass jars with metal lids. Only a small number of samples showed levels of BPA, and large amounts of food and drink would need to be consumed to reach the international safety levels. Packaging suppliers are well aware of these studies and work constantly to ensure consumer safety.

The Australian and New Zealand consumer can be reassured from these further tests, that BPA levels in our general diet are low, but FSANZ will continue to test and monitor the situation.