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newsBisphenol A in food is a health risk

Dietary exposure to bisphenol A (BPA) is a health concern for consumers across all age groups, EFSA’s scientific experts have concluded in a new re-evaluation.

In an extensive assessment of the scientific evidence, and after input from a public consultation, EFSA’s experts identified potentially harmful health effects on the immune system.

The European Commission and national authorities will discuss appropriate regulatory measures to follow up on EFSA’s advice.

BPA is a chemical substance used in combination with other chemicals to manufacture certain plastics and resins.

BPA is used for example in polycarbonate plastic, a transparent and rigid type of plastic used to make water dispensers, food storage containers and reusable beverage bottles. The substance is also used to produce epoxy resins found in protective coatings and linings for food and beverage cans and vats.

Chemicals such as BPA used in foodstuff containers can migrate in very small amounts to the food and drinks they contain, so EFSA’s scientists regularly review their safety, considering new data.

Vast dataset

Dr Claude Lambré, Chair of EFSA’s Panel on Food Contact Materials, Enzymes and Processing Aids, said: “Our scientists have examined the safety of BPA in great detail over the years since our first full risk assessment of the substance in 2006.

“For this re-evaluation, we scrutinised a vast quantity of scientific publications, including over 800 new studies published since January 2013. This has allowed us to address important uncertainties about BPA’s toxicity.

“In the studies, we observed an increase in the percentage of a type of white blood cell, called T helper, in the spleen. They play a key role in our cellular immune mechanisms and an increase of this kind could lead to the development of allergic lung inflammation and autoimmune disorders,” he said.

The Panel also took into account other potentially harmful health effects on the reproductive, developmental and metabolic systems that were identified in the risk assessment.

Systematic approach

Dr Henk Van Loveren, Chair of EFSA’s working group for the re-evaluation of BPA, said: “To assess the large number of studies published since 2013 - the cut-off point for our previous assessment in 2015 - we applied a systematic and transparent approach. We developed upfront a protocol for selecting and appraising all the evidence with the input of stakeholders and Member State competent authorities.

“Our findings are the result of an intense evaluation process that has lasted several years and which we finalised using the input we gathered from a two-month public consultation launched in December 2021,” he added.  

Lower intake threshold

Compared to their previous assessment in 2015, EFSA’s expert Panel significantly lowered the tolerable daily intake (TDI) for BPA, the amount that can be ingested daily over a lifetime without presenting an appreciable health risk.

In 2015, our experts set a temporary TDI due to uncertainties in the evidence, highlighting the need for additional data on the toxicological effects of BPA.

This new re-evaluation addressed most of these gaps and remaining uncertainties were taken into account when setting the TDI.

EFSA’s scientists established a TDI of 0.2 nanograms (0.2 billionths of a gram) per kilogram of body weight per day, replacing the previous temporary level of 4 micrograms (4 millionths of a gram) per kilogram of body weight per day.

The newly established TDI is around 20,000 times lower.

Exposure to BPA

By comparing the new TDI with estimates of dietary exposure to BPA, our experts concluded that consumers with both average and high exposure to BPA in all age groups exceeded the new TDI, indicating health concerns.

Although our expert Panel used the exposure estimates from their assessment in 2015, we acknowledge that restrictions brought in by EU legislators after 2015 on some uses of the substance may have reduced dietary intake. This means that our scenario is conservative.

Several variables can influence the overall health risk for an individual, including other stressors on the human body, genetics and nutrition.

Joint reports

As well as consulting on the draft scientific assessment, EFSA consulted publicly in 2017 on the protocol describing the proposed methodology.

Our scientists also discussed the methodology and findings with other scientific bodies to clarify and/or resolve differences that emerged such as the use of ‘intermediate endpoints’, which are early signals that indicate the potential development of adverse health effects.

In this context, we have published joint reports summarising discussions with the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR).

Discussions such as these with our partners and stakeholders help the further development of risk assessment methodologies that are used for our safety assessments, taking into account the latest scientific knowledge and understanding of potential risks.

Next steps

EU decision-makers, namely the European Commission and Member State representatives, are responsible for setting limits on the amount of a chemical that may migrate from food packaging into food.

EFSA’s scientific advice on BPA will now inform discussions among EU lawmakers on the appropriate regulatory measures to take to protect consumers.