Public choice and BPA

This week the Oregon Senate is considering a bill to ban Bisphenol-A, or BPA, from use in products intended for children under the age of four. BPA is a common chemical in plastic containers. There is some fear that it causes harm by leaking into food and drink products. I am skeptical, as I am of most such scares, but I haven’t done enough research on the topic to have a firm opinion either way.

Writing at Blue Oregon, Kari Chisholm is sure that we should pass the ban. In fact he’d like to ban it in all food containers, not just the ones intended for children. Some of his reasoning is based on scientific research but the rest is biased towards what’s good for legislators. Here’s one of his arguments:

Smart legislators will vote for SB 1032. It’s the right thing to do, but it’s entirely possible that it could become a political issue in upcoming campaigns. When our son was born, I had never heard of BPA. But hanging around with a bunch of new parents, I quickly learned about it – and this is a major worry with young families. (Legislators who don’t have young children of their own would be smart to check in with some new parents — they may be surprised how deep the concern runs about BPA. Entire businesses have been built to help parents avoid this chemical.)

Given a choice between protecting the health and well-being of Oregon children – and protecting a bunch of out-of-state (and overseas) chemical and plastics manufacturers – I think the choice is clear. You can imagine what the attack ads will look like for those who vote against the bill.

This also isn’t about jobs. No one in Oregon produces BPA or the products affected by SB 1032.

This might all be true, but there’s nothing praiseworthy in the provincial idea that we should go ahead with the ban because the only people who would be hurt by it are non-Oregonian Americans or foreigners who are likely economically worse off than we are. It’s expedient for legislators to think that way but it’s not a principle we should encourage. (If Oregon was home to a BPA plant, would Chisholm want legislators to ignore science to protect their political prospects?)

Then he updates with this:

Over at the OLCV blog, Jon Isaacs notes that the Bisphenol-A baby-bottle ban is an opportunity for a big bipartisan accomplishment, at a time when there’s been a lot of partisan bickering and stonewalling.

I don’t even know what the point of this is supposed to be. Bipartisanship is only good if the laws that are being passed are good. It’s not good for it’s own sake. If all it does is give politicians something to point to when they’re running for re-election and cover from lobbying groups then I don’t see the value. The same blog post he links to notes that 90% of the bottles for sale in Oregon are already BPA-free anyway, suggesting that concerned parents and retailers are handling the alleged problem reasonably well on their own.

There might be good reasons to ban BPA in bottles, but after reading this Blue Oregon post I’m less convinced than ever that the decision will be based on sound science rather than on the self-interest of legislators.

Update 2/16/10: The bill failed.


5 thoughts on “Public choice and BPA”

  1. Entire businesses have been built to help parents avoid this chemical.

    Hm… apparently, even when one is staring him in the face, this guy cannot grasp the concept of ‘Market Solutions’.

  2. BPA “bans” are already going into effect on their own. Most baby bottles and a good number of other plastics advertise themselves as BPA-free. I know that’s one thing I looked for when buying Selah’s bottles.

  3. I think the “made in Oregon” portion it was more of a satirical jab at the past history Oregon legislators than an actual reason.

  4. …According to the Oregonian the bill did not pass today because:

    They also warned the ban in Senate Bill 1032 could be a first step toward banning the chemical from the lining of canned products, which they said would hurt Oregon food processors.

    “Nobody wants to vote against nursing moms and mothers,” said Sen. Jason Atkinson, R-Central Point, who said he believes BPA is “bad” and his family opted not to use bottles containing it. But BPA opponents “want to go into Oregon’s food processing industries,” Atkinson said.

    Exactly the point that Blue Oregon was making earlier.

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