July 23 2014
Thanks to green alarmism, Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) recently introduced the “Ban Poisonous Additives Act of 2014,” which would eliminate the chemical Bisphenol A from food containers. Applauding Markey’s bill, the Environmental Working Group exclaimed in a press statement: “Science shows that BPA is present in the vast majority of Americans and is harmful to human health.”
Yet the overwhelming body of science on BPA shows the exact opposite: BPA bans are not only unwarranted, but they are the real danger to public health.
Resins that line food containers made with BPA prevent the development of deadly pathogens in our food supply, protecting consumers from potentially deadly bacteria like E. coli. Because there aren’t good alternatives to BPA resins, if passed into law, BPA bans could increase food spoilage and serious food-borne illnesses.
EWG and other anti-BPA activists ignore the fact the comprehensive reviews of BPA science find BPA risks to be negligible and the benefits substantial. In addition to U.S. Food and Drug Administration, governmental bodies in the European Union, Japan, and Canada, as well as the World Health Organization have all studied BPA and concluded the risks are negligible. The best-designed studies show that the human body metabolizes BPA quickly, passing it out without any impacts.
Ignoring these comprehensive scientific reviews, greens instead focus on myriad small, inconclusive, and poorly designed studies to sound the alarm and generate media hype. For example, EWG says in its press release: “It [BPA] has been linked to cancer, obesity, diabetes, infertility, hormone disruption and early puberty in children.”
The operative phrase here is “linked to,” which is one of several terms that greens use to exaggerate the meaning of studies reporting weak statistical associations. Other such phraseology includes “suggests,” or “consistent with.” Yet these associations only measure whether two factors happened at the same time; they do not establish cause-and-effect relationships.
Such weak associations easily occur by mere chance or because researchers cherry-pick their data sets, which is why researchers regularly dismiss them. But BPA politics has elevated these largely useless findings to manufacture alarming news headlines.
For example, in one June 2013 PLoS ONE study on BPA and obesity, the authors concluded: “Our study suggests [emphasis added] that BPA could be a potential new environmental obesogen. Widespread exposure to BPA in the human population may also be contributing to the worldwide obesity epidemic.” They might as well have said, “we didn’t find much,” but that wouldn’t have garnered all the provocative headlines that followed.
To top it off, their very weak association was only discovered within a cherry-picked subset of their sample: girls aged 9-12. The entire sample included 1,326 male and female school-age children (grades 4 to 12) living in Shanghai, China. The study measured the BPA levels in these children’s urine and correlated that with obesity levels.
The researchers had to work the data to produce a subset with an association so weak that there is a high probability that it’s merely a statistical accident. The authors rationalized their claim by noting: “Other anthropometric measures of obesity showed similar result.”
They note further that, although they could not find any association between BPA and obesity in boys, the “gender difference of BPA effect was consistent [emphasis added] with findings from experimental studies and previous epidemiological studies.” But the mere existence of “other studies” with “similar” or “consistent,” i.e., equally weak, results does not make this study any more compelling!
Ironically, another study published in the June 2013 issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology found a link between BPA and obesity in non-Hispanic white boys, but not girls or other boys, which is inconsistent with the Shanghai study. Those researchers also cherry-picked a subset of their data to find this, conflicting weak association.
Using phrases like “linked to,” “suggestive,” and “consistent with” to exaggerate weak and largely meaningless findings has become common practice among the anti-chemical alarmist trade. Unfortunately, lawmakers have fallen for this trickery. Unless they are stopped, consumers will end up paying the price.
Angela Logomasini is a Senior Fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum and the Competitive Enterprise Institute. This article in drawn in part from the author’s recent paper: A Consumer’s Guide to Chemical Risk: Deciphering the “Science” Behind Chemical Scares (2014).