School meals, not the problem!

Healthy choices of fresh fruit, salads and vegetables at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, Virginia for lunch service Wednesday, October 19, 2011. The fruit, salads and vegetables are made available through the National School Lunch Program. The National School Lunch Program is a federally assisted meal program administered by the United States Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service operating in public, nonprofit private schools and residential child care institutions. It provides nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free lunches to children each school day.

Recently a study published by researchers at Stanford in the Journal of Exposure Science and Environment Epidemiology has alleged that school meals may expose children to “unsafe levels of BPA”. The author Jennifer Hartle said she was “shocked to see that virtually everything in school meals came from a can or plastic packaging”. But does her shock at the use of plastic mean it is unsafe?

Before getting lost in the jungle of individual studies, it is better to first listen to what the regulators say about science and Bisphenol-A. International food safety authorities including the EFSA and the US FDA have confirmed again and again that “BPA poses no health risk to consumers of any age group”, children and babies included.

What’s more, the Stanford study fails to make a clear distinction between endocrine active substances and endocrine disrupting substances. BPA, like carrots or soybeans, shows very weak hormone-like activity, but not enough to impact human health at current levels of exposure. Not to mention that the study’s method of measuring BPA exposure is subject to caution, as it refers to lab animal experiments or low-dose toxicity studies without reviewing the whole picture.

An additional point that one should consider when reading the study, or media articles about it, is that it makes no sense to focus on pure exposure, as the human body is very good at deactivating and excreting BPA. In fact, the authors of this study may want to speak with their colleagues at Johns Hopkins University who in April this year found that even newborn babies handle exposure to BPA by doing what the bodies systems do best: inactivating and excreting it in urine.

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