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EU, Denmark ban baby bottles containing potentially harmful chemical

06-04-2011 13:00 BJT

by Devapriyo Das

COPENHAGEN, June 3 (Xinhua) -- A European Union ban on the manufacture, import and sale of plastic baby bottles containing a potentially harmful industrial chemical came into effect this week.

The chemical, known as Bisphenol A (BPA), is used in manufacturing polycarbonate plastic used to make many everyday products including feeding bottles.

Prompted by fears that BPA can inhibit brain development, Denmark has banned the sale of feeding bottles, feeding cups and food packaging containing BPA for infants under three as far back as in March 2010.

Pulling the product from Europe's store shelves has created less stir than expected, with governments, manufacturers and consumers willing to err on the side of caution.

"We have test results which show there was a risk that BPA affects the learning ability of male rats," said Marie Louise Flach de Neergaard, head of the Food Quality Division at the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration.

"But we do not have any evidence that shows BPA affects human beings. So the ban is an expression of our principle of being cautious," she told Xinhua.

Research shows that BPA compound in food containers, such as baby bottles, can be released into the food itself, if the containers are heated at high temperatures.

Infants are said to be most vulnerable to BPA intake in the first six months of their lives, as they are unable to remove the substance from their bodies.

"As there is a lot of concern about these hormone-affecting chemicals, especially in relation to children and to pregnant mothers, it is important to take preventive measures," said Dr. Joergen Schlundt, deputy director of the National Food Institute at the Technical University of Denmark.

"And that is why it is important to actually ban BPA for certain uses," he told Xinhua in an interview.

Tests to determine BPA's effects have mostly been carried out on laboratory rats, who appear to suffer learning disabilities when exposed to the chemical. The ban was enforced as researchers and governments feared it could have the same impact on humans.

However, products for children above the age of three and for adults may still contain BPA even in Denmark. The EU has banned BPA from feeding bottles for infants under three only.

INDUSTRY IMPACT

Denmark's plastic industry feels the ban does not pose a major economic threat.

"It has not had any impact in Denmark because these [items] are not manufactured in Denmark. They are usually imported from manufacturers in other places," said Peter Skov, director of Plastindustrien, the country's plastic industry association.

According to de Neergaard, the economic impact was muted also because manufacturers "have been able to find alternatives to BPA. Those products are back on the shelves but without BPA in them."

However, Skov feels the ban has tainted the plastic industry's image as it calls into question the safety of other plastic products, particularly toys for children.

But he added the industry accepts it as it is -- "a decision partly by the consumer and partly by the authorities."

SATISFIED CONSUMERS

In fact, consumer acceptance of the ban has helped ensure business as usual.

"In the beginning, customers were a little curious about the ban, but when they heard it was because of BPA, they totally accepted it," said Klaus Gervig, shop manager for a major Danish baby products retailer.

He said the ban has led to slightly higher product prices but has not affected sales.

"Customers have been prepared to pay a little bit more when they heard why it is becoming more expensive," he said.

According to Schlundt, the predicted impacts of BPA on human health are still being studied, and its real effects may only be known after many years. But Danish consumers are already willing to be on the safe side.

"It is good with a ban until the potential risk has been assessed," said Tue Wincentz Boas, 33, who has a nine-month-old daughter.

"In general, I feel it is better to restrict the use of potential harmful chemicals especially for children," his wife Mai, 31, added.

The couple avoid buying plastic and cosmetic products that contain chemicals suspected of causing hormone imbalances or other adverse health effects on humans, they said.

Others like Julie Lykkegaard, 26, had not heard of BPA or the ban, but knows her five-month-old son's feeding bottles come in packaging that states the product is BPA-free.

On learning that BPA could have long-term adverse health effects on child development, she wondered why the ban has not been extended to other products.

"If I know it is dangerous for kids under three, then why would I buy products which contain it even if they are for older children?" she asked.

Skov believes extending the ban in Denmark to include other products could run counter to EU regulations. He also believes it is difficult to find "proper substitutes" to polycarbonate in some plastic products like soft drink bottles.

There is an implicit agreement that the ban is tough enough for now.

"The issue has been to make sure we stop the exposure where it is most important and that has been achieved by the ban," Schlundt said, referring to the existing restrictions on infant-related products. "In that sense, it is a sensible way forward, and it might be sufficient."

Editor:Du Xiaodan |Source: Xinhua

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