The fear over bisphenol A is understandable. That something as innocuous as feeding infants from baby bottles could cause irreparable harm to their development is scary, and preemptive measures are worth taking if there is sound science to back it up. Concern over the danger of bisphenol A has picked up steam as researchers look at the effects of low concentrations, which had previously been assumed harmless. The decision by the Canadian government to declare bisphenol A toxic is bold, since the research is working towards (but hasn’t established) causality between human use of the chemical and harm (obesity, breast cancer, and neurological and developmental damage).
It’s disappointing then that in an interview with BNN’s Amanda Lang, Minister of Health Tony Clement couldn’t describe the possible neurological effects of bisphenol A, when it was one reason for the ban on polycarbonate baby bottles: “I’ll leave that to the scientists,” he told Lang, “I’m just a layman who happens to be the Minister of Health.” The answer seems a touch glib. Sure, scientific data is complex, but isn’t the role of the Minister of Health to distill the information to help the public best understand the possible danger? (We’d be equally confounded if the Minister of Finance weren’t able to explain why and how things worked in the economy and shrugged it off as a layperson.)
He should have mentioned that current research suggests that at low concentrations, bisphenol A could confuse signalling in the brain and nervous system and prevent the correct function of neural cells. The ban has focused on infants since they can ingest more bisphenol A through leaching from plastic bottles filled with hot liquids and from the lining of cans of formula.
Although Lang let Clement off the hook, she appeared slightly amused that the Minister had passed on an easy question—and it should have been an easy question. When the government’s statements have already jump-started a widespread removal of products containing bisphenol A, put parents in fear of potential harm to their children, and started a possible domino effect for bans in other countries, the Minister of Health should be able to explain the government’s stance and the evidence that backs it up.
Photo by Jonfeinstein.