Lawmakers Search for Problems Instead of Solutions, Contradict FDA on Food Safety | Commentary

Posted July 17, 2014 at 9:49am

With three weeks left in the work period before Congress leaves for its long summer recess, the Senate is likely to leave nearly 300 House bills aimed at spurring economic growth gathering dust on Leader Harry Reid’s desk.

Following last month’s news that the economy shrank nearly 3 percent in the first quarter of the year, the Senate has exerted no energy confronting the country’s economic challenges and instead sought to promote legislative solutions to problems that don’t exist.

Leader Reid has already fast-tracked job-killing legislation such as the Bring Jobs Home Act, which would further complicate the tax code and exacerbate the competitive disadvantage companies face in the United States. Other senators are pursuing their own economically damaging priorities.

Specifically, Senator Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., has introduced the deceitfully named Ban Poisonous Additives Act, targeting the compound bisphenol A (BPA). Representatives Lois Capps, D-Calif., and Grace Meng, D-N.Y. have crafted the same bill in the House.

To that end, the Senator and his House allieswrote a piece that ran in Roll Call promoting their legislation, which would ban the use of BPA in food and beverage containers. The piece trots out the usual canards that have yet to convince major regulatory bodies that BPA poses a threat; the Food and Drug Administration, along with Canada, New Zealand, Germany and even the United Nations (amongst others) have refused to accept the anti-BPA fervor as fact. Politicians are hard-pressed to explain how they are better equipped to make scientific determinations that regulatory experts have thus far rejected.

BPA is an essential component of the linings in metal containers that prevent the growth of food pathogens. Its use in canned fruits and vegetables has expanded consumer access to healthful foods for decades.

The unfamiliar, however, serves as a convenient villain for lawmakers desperate to deflect from their lousy economic record; amorphous-sounding chemicals have always lent themselves to this goal.

Families who are trying to squeeze every dime out of their grocery budgets are sure to pay attention when lawmakers allege their low-cost food options are potentially toxic. Again, the expert analysis here conflicts with the political pandering: In May, the FDA published a “Questions & Answers on Bisphenol A (BPA) Use in Food Contact Applications.” In it, the agency asked “Is BPA Safe?” and provided one simple answer: “Yes.”

Similarly, the bill sponsors cited an FDA “ban” on baby bottles and sippy cups as evidence that the chemical is unsafe. In fact, the FDA expressly states that it delisted BPA for use in these products to reflect industry practices, not to instruct them. The statement in the federal register reads: “  . . .  because the petition was based on an assertion of abandonment, the Agency did not request comments on the safety of the use of [polycarbonate] resins in baby bottles and sippy cups. Such safety information is not relevant to abandonment and, therefore, any comments addressing the safety of PC resins were not considered in the Agency’s evaluation of this petition”

While the Ban Poisonous Additives Act may make for stirring floor speeches, the American people are focused on feeding their families. To make healthy choices on a budget, the federal government’s own literature proposes buying canned fruits and vegetables. The availability of non-perishable items has increased access to produce for underserved communities as well. Outlawing the practice that has expanded the opportunity for healthy alternatives to fresh food harms the populations that can least afford it. And to what end? The consequences of restricting food access are very real while the risks supposedly posed by BPA are supported through bombast, not evidence.

Banning the use of an agent ubiquitous in food production would necessarily increase costs on consumers and have an untold impact on an industry that employs over 1 million Americans. Lawmakers should reconsider such a dangerous campaign.

Mattie Duppler is the director of Budget & Regulatory Affairs for Americans for Tax Reform and the executive director of the Cost of Government Center, an ATR affiliate that focuses on spending and regulatory issues. Follow her on Twitter @Mduppler.