Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Bisphenol A (BPA) in Canned Food: Chicken Noodle Soup for Pseudo-Scientists?


Bisphenol a in canned food like Campbell's Chicken Noodle? 

New York Time's columnist Nicholas Kristof's turned his keen eye to bisphenol-a (aka BPA) Sunday in what may become a continuing series, "Chemicals in Our Food, Our Bodies."   He pulled out the usual data in addition to a new study by Consumer Reports.  The anal organization apparently found traces of BPA in popular canned items.  Including Campbell's Chicken Noodle and Similac's Advance liquid baby formula.  You'll have to wait until the December issue to read the rest of the suspects unless you can make them out on the website's photo.   

Then there's Kristof's "expert" who references  recent research estimating  92% of Americas have traces of BPA in their urine:

“When you have 92 percent of the American population exposed to a chemical, this is not one where you want to be wrong,” said Dr. Ted Schettler of the Science and Environmental Health Network. “Are we going to quibble over individual rodent studies, or are we going to act?”
Sounds scary.  Ninety-two percent!  Oh No.  Dread.  Major health crisis.  How have we survived this long?

But ....

If most, no, the overwhelming majority of people harbor this supposed toxin, then is it all that bad?  Couldn't we argue that because most of us are still walking around with BPA and leading relatively healthy lives, might this chemical not be so terrible?  What other stuff are we lugging around? 

And I insist we "quibble" over the science.  Including those rat studies!  

It's our our duty to talk about the science.  To get it right.  This means rehashing old data and collecting new data until we have a much clearer picture.  Obviously Dr. Schettler of the Science and Environmental Health Network forgot about the "science" part.  Those rats studies are important - they're experiments, which is more that I can say for the human ones (correlational all).  And from a scientific standpoint, that's a big plus. 

And although I read and respect Kristof, he left out a lot.  Like the fact that the European equivalent of the FDA raised the daily "safe" threshold by a factor of 5.  That the individual European countries consider BPA relatively safe, as does Australia and Japan.  Did he mention the pile of studies that haven't found any adverse effects?

Or the nitty gritty research methodology details, especially among the rat studies the not-so-scientific scientist doesn't want us to think about?  Many of the "harm" studies involve rats being injected (rather than ingesting) BPA.  Although counter-intuitive, ingesting it appears much safer.  Or the recent study in Pediatrics showing even newborns readily rid their bodies of the chemical.  Or the correlational nature of studies linking levels of BPA to deformities and chronic health conditions.  Could it be that persons with heart disease cannot rid their bodies of BPA or other chemicals?  Could there be another factor responsible for the supposed BPA bad behavior?  Yes, we just don't know. 

Too bad Kristof stopped short of a more accurate portrait of the much pooh-poohed plastic. 

The precaution, I get it. I practice it. I bought the BPA-free sippy cups and the expensive Swiss water bottles. Okay, so remove the suspect baby bottles and don't eat canned soup every day. Does it concern me that kids have more BPA in their urine than adults? Yes. 

Kristof got plenty of comments on his On the Ground blog (Is That A Plastic Bottle You're Drinking From) - including my own that landed in the featured "comment of the moment".   Perhaps because it was one of the more moderate ones.  Score one for the moderate-minded (though no less passionate) parents out there.

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