January 17, 2013

State takes first steps in banning BPA from baby food packaging

Board of Environmental Protection initiative would ban sale of baby food and infant formula packaged with bisphenol-A

By Michael Shepherd mshepherd@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA -- The Board of Environmental Protection took a preliminary vote Thursday to ban the sale of baby food and infant formula in containers made with the chemical additive bisphenol-A, or BPA. If approved in a final vote and later endorsed by the legislature, the initiative would make Maine the third state to impose BPA bans that exceed federal standards.

click image to enlarge

Retired state toxicologist Deborah Rice discusses the need to eliminate the chemical BPA during a press conference Thursday in Augusta. Scientists, environmentalists and parents testified during a Board of Environmental Protection hearing to limit the use of the chemical.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

The board action was prompted by a citizens' petition submitted last June that also sought a ban on toddler food packaged in containers with BPA. The board didn't endorse the toddler food ban, citing concerns about identifying what foods are aimed at children under age 3.

Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman Samantha DePoy-Warren said the agency would need expert help to define toddler foods, which would leave a gray area for manufacturers and consumers. BEP chairman Robert Foley said in the meeting that a toddler food ban "would be difficult, if not impossible, for the department to enforce."

Richard Gould, a board member from Greenville, said specificity was important. "How can you determine if a can of peas is intended for toddlers?" he asked.

The board is scheduled to take a final vote Jan. 24.

"We're thrilled that the board decided to take action and get BPA out of infant formula and baby food," said Amanda Sears, associate director of the Environmental Health Strategy Center, part of alliance that supported the petition. "That's absolutely the right decision to make in this."

Democratic leaders in the Legislature cheered the ruling.

Senate Majority Leader Seth Goodall, D-Richmond, said in a prepared statement that he will submit a bill to support the BEP's proposed ban. "It's clear the Legislature has to continue our work to protect older children as well," Goodall said. "For example, we need to clarify certain words and definitions such as 'toddler food' so that the (board) can continue its good work of keeping our families out of harm's way from toxic chemicals."

House Majority Leader Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, also voiced his support. "This action taken by the Board of Environmental Protection is an important additional step towards keeping our children safe from clearly harmful chemicals."

A DEP staff report said 92 percent of baby food manufacturers that responded to state inquiries said they have removed or were taking steps to remove BPA from packaging. It also said studies show it's unclear whether BPA used in baby food lids makes contact with food.

"There needs to be proof of exposure and proof of safe alternatives," DePoy-Warren said. "We really need irrefutable evidence, and we don't think that's there with baby food."

At Thursday's meeting, however, M. Wing Goodale, a board member from Falmouth, noted that Gerber, the nation's largest baby food maker, has moved to eliminate BPA from packaging. A document filed by petitioners says it uses alternatives such as aseptic containers.

Elizabeth Ehrenfeld, a board member from Yarmouth, said scientific evidence, including some showing the chemical leaches from containers into food products and is consumed, was enough to get her to support infant formula and baby food packaging.

"I would like to see it removed from everything else, and I can make that choice by what I'm choosing to purchase; but that's not what's in front of us," she said.

The DEP staff earlier this month did not support the ban in toddler food or baby food, which prompted outrage from a group of mothers organized by the alliance.

"Once you get the women excited, it's time to look out. I've been married 60 years and I learned that a long time ago," said Gould, the board member from Greenville. "When they want something, they go out and get it, especially when it comes to their kids."

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