NZFSA’s view, based on current scientific evidence, is that there is no health concern associated with BPA, a chemical found in plastics, including food packaging and babies’ bottles. We are maintaining a very close watch on developments in case new data comes forward that changes this view.
Bisphenol A (BPA) is an industrial chemical used in the production of polycarbonate plastics and synthetic resins. BPA can be found in items or containers that come into contact with food, such as drinking cups or bottles, babies’ bottles, plastic tableware, and the internal coating on cans for canned food. BPA is useful for replacing glass where breakage is a risk, or to prevent tin cans dissolving into food, potentially causing food poisoning. Chemicals in food packaging can migrate into food products in very small amounts, depending on the nature of the packaging and the food it contains.
To date, the weight of evidence and scientific data indicates BPA does not cause health problems at the levels we are exposed to it in our diet. BPA can mimic the hormone oestrogen and, as such, is sometimes called an ‘endocrine disruptor’ because it shows a weak hormonal effect. Some studies in laboratory animals suggest that low levels of (consumed) BPA may have an effect on the reproductive system. However. similar consequences in people are considered unlikely at these low concentrations because BPA is rapidly inactivated and then excreted in the urine.
Some animal studies have raised theoretical issues about the potential effects of low levels of BPA, particularly to infants. We are aware that new research has been commissioned to try to answer the theoretical issues raised about BPA, and as that new work is reported, we will continue to review our position.
A European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) review of the scientific literature for BPA determined a maximum daily ‘safe limit’ for BPA. EFSA concluded that a bottle-fed baby would have an estimated total daily BPA intake of less than 10% of the ‘safe level’ for babies when the bottles were cleaned using normal domestic conditions, and about 20% of the ‘safe limit’ when the bottles were cleaned under exaggerated conditions including the use of boiling water or strong solvents. In adults, the estimated daily intake from canned foods and beverages would be about 5% of the ‘safe limit’. NZFSA and Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) agree with EFSA’s risk assessment.
Reviews by the US Food and Drug Administration and Health Canada also concluded that levels of exposure do not pose a health risk. Health Canada's Food Directorate says “the current dietary exposure to BPA through food packaging uses is not expected to pose a health risk to the general population, including newborns and infants.” However, due to the uncertainty raised in some animal studies relating to the potential effects of low levels of BPA, the Canadian government has banned the sale and importation of polycarbonate plastic babies’ bottles. To date, it is the only country taking action.
The Canadian action was not taken after considering new information. The issue has been under review for some years and recent US and Canadian reports simply draw together the research. Both the Canadian and EFSA reviews conclude that human exposures are below those that give rise to any health effects. EFSA concluded that there was no need to take any action to change approvals for the use of BPA in the production of food containers. NZFSA and FSANZ continue to monitor this issue.
FSANZ regulates food packaging materials through Standard 1.4.3 – Articles and Materials in Contact with Food. Standard 1.4.3 deals with food contact materials in general terms, and does not specify individual packaging materials for food contact or how they should be produced or used. However, with respect to plastic packaging products, the Standard refers to the Australian Standard for Plastic Materials for Food Contact Use, AS 2070-1999. This Standard provides a guide to industry about the production of plastic materials for food contact use. AS 2070, in turn, refers to regulations of the United States and European Economic Community directives relevant to the manufacture and use of plastics.
In addition, the New Zealand Food Act makes reference to food packaging issues in Section 9(4)(c) which states that “No person shall prepare or pack for sale, or sell any food in any package, or any package intended to contain food, if that package is made wholly or partly of a material that may render the food injurious to health or that may taint the food”.
The weight of scientific evidence indicating BPA does not cause health problems at low levels of exposure means that NZFSA is not changing its position on the use of baby bottles at this time. We are maintaining a very close watch on developments in case new data comes forward that changes this view.
NZFSA has information on its website about safe feeding of infants. NZFSA does not believe parents and caregivers who follow manufacturers’ instructions using polycarbonate baby bottles are placing infants at risk. Parents who are concerned can choose to use glass bottles instead.
Bispehnol A and food packaging Fact sheet, 19 January 2010. [Food Standards Australia New Zealand]
Bisphenol A (BPA) [U.S. Food and Drug Administration]
Bisphenol A. [European Food Safety Authority]
Bisphenol A. [Government of Canada]
Bisphenol A [Health Canada]
Q & As: Bisphenol A. [National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences]
Updated February 2010
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