PRECAUTION WITHOUT PRINCIPLE
May 28, 2010
U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), and Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), have brought a current hobgoblin to center stage, introducing legislation to ban the chemical bisphenol-A (BPA) from food and drink containers. This proposal, which rejects the overwhelming scientific consensus that BPA is safe, has more to do with public relations than public health, says Forbes magazine.
The controversies raging over BPA and other chemicals (as well as other consumer products) are a microcosm of the struggle between the proponents of the precautionary principle and those who prefer to apply science and common sense to questions of public policy and personal choice, says Forbes:
- BPA is a ubiquitous industrial chemical that for more than 50 years has been an important raw material in the manufacture of polycarbonate plastics used in consumer products including beverage containers, infant feeding bottles, plastic dinnerware and plastic storage containers.
- Regulatory authorities from around the world, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, have declared that BPA is safe as used and has not been shown to cause health problems in adults, children or unborn babies.
Activists supporting the BPA ban like to cite that the chemical can be found in trace levels in human tissues such as blood and urine, but the mere ability to detect a substance does not mean it is a hazard, says Forbes. The critics fail to consider that animal tests, although essential to biomedical research, are conducted with very high doses that are not reliable in predicting human risk. Also they cite various locations, including Canada, where BPA has been restricted; however, those bans were based on politics, not science.
According to Forbes columnist Trevor Butterworth, "... the panic over the chemical BPA is not only unjustified, it has reached the point where the failure to accept basic, rational principle in scientific research is damaging toxicology itself, wasting taxpayers' money and undermining scientific progress."
Source: Elizabeth Whelan and Henry I. Miller, "Precaution Without Principle," Forbes, May 5, 2010.
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