BPA and Sound Science:  An Isolated Victory or a Roadmap for Success?

In 2008, the Canadian government set off a brush fire when it declared Bisphenol A (BPA) unsafe for use in baby bottles and sippy cups.

Right away NGO groups like the Environmental Working Group and others launched an ambitious public relations campaign in the United States.  They put out press releases and email alerts to their members claiming BPA was unsafe at any level and for any intended purpose.  They implored their allies in state legislature across the country to ban the use of BPA in baby bottles, drinking containers and food packaging. They ran to Capitol Hill seeking federal legislation.  They put pressure on the FDA to ban the substance.  They launched consumer campaigns against companies that use BPA.

It worked. A mountain of negative media attention on BPA followed.  State and local governments banned the use of BPA in infant products.  Seeking to allay consumer fears, many food and beverage companies switched packaging or raced to find alternative epoxy substances to replace BPA.

All the while, food and beverage companies continued to tell the government and consumers BPA is safe, earning the scorn of NGO groups and the media.

For the last six years, attacks on BPA have created a chaotic environment.  Alternative packaging and BPA replacements can raise costs for consumers and may result in a shorter shelf life for the products they protect.  Incredibly, replacement technologies have come under fire as well.

In a recent and stunning turn of events, the United States and Canadian governments have both reaffirmed the safety of BPA for use in food packaging.  First, after six long years, FDA published its findings on BPA safety in the journal Toxicological Sciences.  FDA’s conclusion?  BPA is safe as currently used.

A few weeks ago, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) released the results of its research showing BPA is safe for use in 100% of canned food.  It was not even detected in 98.5% of all food tested.

That is good news for industry and consumers alike.  Unfortunately, these definitive studies by two of the most credible food safety agencies in the world were not enough to assuage the anti-BPA crowd.  They have embarked on a shrill and vicious attack campaign against CFIA and FDA with little or no evidence.

Scientific consensus has shown that BPA is safe.  But why won’t the NGO groups that have been critical of BPA accept six years worth of well designed, appropriately conducted and appropriately validated science?  Why won’t they lay down their weapons and move on?

The answer is simple.  They are unable to admit when they are wrong, and the perpetuation of fear helps them raise money and provides content for their e-newsletters and social media pages.

Sound science and common sense are the antithesis of the tactics used by the permanent anti-food industry establishment.  And on BPA, sound science and common sense have prevailed.

Industry can most certainly take the lessons learned on BPA and apply them to combat unwarranted NGO attacks against them now and in the future.

Sean McBride, Founder and Principal of DSM Strategic Communications & Consulting, is former Executive Vice President, Communications & Membership Services of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, and former Director of Communications at the American Beverage Association