New Report Shows Slanted Coverage of Chemical BPA

The media’s obsession with chemicals in children’s products has led to a national health scare over the chemical bisphenol A (BPA). It’s a scare the rest of the world sees as unnecessary and irrelevant, according to a new study by the Statistical Assessment Service (STATS) at George Mason University


The study released June 12 highlighted the media’s failure to accurately report on BPA. The new report explicitly blamed one newspaper, the Milwaukee Sentinel Journal, for the recent media obsession with BPA.


The newspaper reported two types of studies: “‘independently’ funded studies which found BPA to cause health effects at very low doses, while the “industry-funded” studies found no effect.” 


However, they gave no weight to the industry-funded studies, regardless of the fact that these were some of the few that met the requirements established in 2001 by the National Toxicology Program for BPA research. 


By 2008 there was an independent study which reached similar conclusions and led Europe “to conclude that not only was BPA safe, it was actually safer than previously thought – and its equivalent of the FDA recommended raising the tolerable daily intake of BPA by a factor of five.” 


STATS also reported that the paper ignored not only this independent study but also another one by NSF International which “concluded that BPA did not pose a health risk, and that many of the studies showing risk were poorly done.”


Instead, all of their reputed attempts to offer “independent” research lead back to one man, biologist Frederick vom Saal from the University of Missouri-Columbia.  The paper, according to STATS, turned to vom Saal’s laboratory to conduct tests, then turned to his colleagues to interpret the results, and then again to vom Saal to comment on his own findings.  Remarkably, “the paper repeatedly portrayed these researchers as “independent” but failed to note the financial and research ties linking them together.”


The STATS study concluded that this trend started by the Journal was “mirrored by many other publications, echoed by activist groups, and led numerous local and state politicians to press for the chemical to be banned, even as European scientists warned that banning a chemical shown to be safe could actually put the public in real danger given the role BPA plays in food safety.”


The report blamed this one newspaper’s biased report for the rest of the media’s obsession with the issue. But other media attention showed towards BPA was just as one-sided as the Journal.


An October 29, 2008 report on ABC’s “World News with Charles Gibson” made the same claims that STATS highlighted in the Journal’s report.


Reporter Lisa Stark claimed, “It is a stunning rebuke. FDA scientists did not do a thorough enough job when looking at the controversial chemical BPA,” and further reported that “the FDA failed to consider numerous studies in animals that linked BPA to cancer, diabetes and other health problems. Instead, they depended on industry sponsored research to conclude BPA is safe.” 


No representative from the FDA was interviewed in any attempt to defend the FDA’s conclusions.


Likewise the media incorporated the assumption that BPA is dangerous into other segments, including product promotion.  ABC’s “Good Morning America,” promoting an Utz lunch box on June 15, made sure to point out numerous times that “they’re BPA free.” 


While the FDA is expected to make another decision regarding BPA this summer, the media have already treated it as a given that it is a dangerous chemical, ignoring all other claims.


STATS is a nonprofit research group that is dedicated to “improve the quality of scientific and statistical information in public discourse and to act as a resource for journalists and policy makers on scientific issues and controversies,” according to their Web site.