Detecting for the sake of detection

Imagine if detective Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot spent their time solving trivial questions about who made the tea with tepid water, rather than solving complex crimes. This is the essence of what the Stanford University School of Medicine study about bisphenol-A (BPA) exposure from canned foods, published in the journal of Environmental Research, is trying to achieve – unfortunately, it overlooks what matters and focuses on the issues that don’t actually fundamentally matter to consumers.

Rather than address real health concerns, the Stanford Prevention Research Center continues to produce studies based on nutritional surveys and urine samples, demonstrating correlations, and then on the basis of sensationalist press releases allowing journalists and the public to leap to conclusions.

The study found that people with measurable, but minuscule, levels of BPA in their urine reported that they also consumed canned foods in the previous 24 hours. The inference is that the BPA-based epoxy resin used to line the can leaches some of the BPA into the food product.

What is of actual interest and that the researchers fail to report is that the levels of BPA detected fall below the threshold set for safe ingestion of BPA. BPA is one of the most tested substances in the world and regulatory agencies across the globe, from the United States to Europe to Japan have concluded that it is safe for its intended use. It is especially jarring that this critical fact was absent from Stanford’s press release and that it was CNN who provided this information in their article.

This new study comes from the same team that in September 2015 released a study that measured BPA levels present in foods used in school meals. The lead researcher disregarded the fact that the BPA levels were below the thresholds set by public health regulators, but focused simply on the presence of “cans and plastic packaging.”

In both of these cases, these sleuths seem to be “detecting for the sake of detection”. Yes, tea is sometimes made with tepid water and BPA is in very small levels detectable in urine. But the tea is still drinkable and food remains safe for everyone.

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