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Consumer groups push FDA to ban phthalates in food production and packaging

Consumer advocates say chemical plasticizers linked to hormone problems in children- can leach into milk, meat and other foods during the production and packaging process.

SEATTLE -- The Food and Drug Administration is taking a closer look at certain chemicals called that can end up in your food. The issue? The amount of risk the chemicals pose to you and your kids' health.

One source of concern is certain canned food, because of the chemicals used to make the thin plastic lining that protects food from the metal.

For years, some food can manufacturers have used linings that contain the chemical Bisphenol A, commonly known as PBA, which is liked to problems with hormone products in women and children.

Consumer safety advocates have been asking food companies to transition from BPA to a safer plastic and many have. However Washington Toxics Coaltion's Erkia Schreder says some companies that stopped using BPA have replaced it with a synthetic plastic called polyvinyl chloride, or PVC. PVC contains chemicals called phthalates.

"Phthalates are hormone disrupting chemicals, and they're used as plasticizers. So they actually enter our food supply at a bunch of different points along the way," said Schreder.

In addition to food cans, Schreder and other researchers say phthalates are found in all sorts plastic food packaging as well as food-manufacturing equipment. Foods with high fat content such as milk, dairy and meat are more likely to absorb high levels of the chemicals during production.

"Anything from tubing that milk goes through to parts of the factory, to vinyl gloves," said Schreder. "So we end up with phthalates contaminating our food even before it goes to packaging."

Schreder says acidic and fat-free vegetables are less susceptible to phthalate leaching during the storage and production process.

In response to new research and mounting consumer concern since the FDA moved to allow phthalates in food in the mid-1980s, the agency FDA is reconsidering phthalate safety. The FDA agreed in April to consider a petition asking the agency to essentially ban certain phthalates from food packaging and food-handling equipment. The citizens petition was submitted by nearly a dozen consumer and environmental organizations. A new petition being circulated by the Environmental Work Group urges consumers to get involved in asking the FDA to withdraw it's decades-old approval of phthalates in food.

Some in the manufacturing and chemical industry suggest many of the food safety concerns involving phthalates are unwarranted.

The American Chemistry Council provided the following statement by email:

• Phthalates aren’t used in plastic food wraps and containers.

• Phthalates are among the most thoroughly studied family of chemicals and government regulatory bodies support the safety of phthalates for consumer uses.

• Food packaging is reviewed for safety by the Food and Drug Administration, and this stringent safety review is done before new materials are allowed on the market.

• Scientific agencies and regulatory bodies world-wide have concluded that the phthalates in commerce today do not pose a risk to human health at real-life exposure levels.

This link to our website addresses some health and safety questions.

Key to your question about the studies is this line: And, while some of these studies have suggested a link between phthalates and various human health effects, none has demonstrated an actual causal link (that phthalates are the cause of the effect). Because phthalates are found in many consumer products, most people are exposed to phthalates every day, but phthalates don’t migrate out of products easily and they don’t accumulate in our bodies. In fact, they begin to breakdown within minutes and are metabolized within 12 to 24 hours.

The FDA is expected to make a determination in October of this year.

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