Tobacco Tactics in the Battle Over BPA

As evidence about the health risks associated with smoking accumulated, the tobacco industry responded by funding its own research, which concluded that cigarettes aren’t so bad after all. They recruited spokespeople who’d proclaim tobacco’s safety without revealing that they were being paid handsomely by cigarette manufacturers. These activities (and others in the same vein) helped stave off regulation of tobacco products and created a blueprint that other dangerous industries would adopt and refine in the years to come.

In the latest installment of their investigation into bisphenol A, Meg Kissinger and Susanne Rust of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel report that the plastics industry is using tobacco-industry tactics to fight against BPA regulation, but with a 21st-century twist: They’re posting what appears to be neutral, unbiased information on YouTube and blogs without revealing the funding source.

The article is worth reading for the descriptions of the plastics industry’s campaign, but it won’t be very surprising for anyone who’s familiar with the history of tobacco, lead, asbestos, or other substances that have only been removed from consumer products after a protracted battle. What I found most alarming in Kissinger and Rust’s latest piece was the description of how the Food and Drug Administration has responded to the industry efforts to keep BPA on the market:

In May, the Journal Sentinel reported e-mails obtained from the FDA showed how federal regulators deferred in recent years to chemical industry lobbyists, allowing them effectively to write public policy on the chemical’s safety.

The newly discovered documents show agency scientists have relied on chemical industry lobbyists to help draft public safety standards on BPA for much longer, more than a decade.

Details of meetings between federal regulators and chemical industry lobbyists are found in the archives of the Tobacco Institute, the lobby group of the tobacco industry. A court settlement in 1998 disbanded the institute and opened the records to the public. …

The Tobacco Institute documents show administrators from the FDA routinely turned to chemical industry scientists to establish the government’s safety level for BPA. Government scientists relied on test results performed by industry scientists without independent confirmation.

Didn’t the tobacco wars teach government agencies about the dangers of relying unquestioningly on industry-funded science? Let’s hope that  FDA’s newest review of the BPA science won’t rest so heavily on information provided by an industry that has such a huge financial stake in our continued use of BPA.