Ministry of Health Issues Draft Ban on the Use of BPA in Infant Food Containers (Update)

May 24, 2011

On April 20, 2011, the Ministry of Health posted on its Web site a draft document that would ban the import or manufacture of containers for infants' food, including baby bottles, which contain BPA, starting June 1, 2011, and that would ban the sale in China of such products as of September 1, 2011. In January, the Ministry of Health had issued a letter soliciting comments on draft lists of additives and resins used in food packaging materials, which included a ban on BPA in packaging for infant foods. China's proposed ban follows similar bans in the European Union and Canada.

On April 20, 2011, the Ministry of Health (MOH) posted on its Web site a Letter Soliciting Opinions on Announcement Banning the Use of Bisphenol A (BPA) in Infant Food Containers. The letter asks for comments on an attached draft announcement by April 29, and is addressed to the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), the Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM), the State Administration for Industry and Commerce (SAIC), the Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection, and Quarantine (AQSIQ), the State Food and Drug Administration (SFDA), and the Food Safety Commission. The announcement, which in its final form would be issued jointly by MOH, MIIT, MOFCOM, SAIC, AQSIQ, and SFDA, states that BPA is widely used in production of chemical products and food-related products, such as food packaging and containers, and that the BPA can leach into the food itself, which may pose a risk to food safety. The draft announcement notes that scientific research had not yet shown the trace amounts of BPA leaking from the products to be harmful, but that infants belong to a special class of persons. Therefore, under the terms of the announcement, the manufacture or import of infant food containers, such as milk bottles, containing BPA would be banned as of June 1, 2011, and the sale of such products in China would not be allowed starting on September 1, 2011. The April letter follows another MOH letter dated January 31, 2011, soliciting comments on two draft lists of substances (appended to the letter) approved for use in food packaging materials, one list of 196 additives and the other of 116 resins. The Ministry of Health issued the January letter "based on the 'Food Safety Law' and its implementing regulations, and in accordance with the Ministry of Health and seven departments' 'Circular on Launching Work on Food Packaging Materials.'" (See the CECC 2009 Annual Report, pp. 221–223, and 2010 Annual Report, p. 185.) The draft list of 116 allowable resins imposes restrictions on the use of BPA in packaging, limiting the maximum residual amount of BPA in most products used for food packaging. Further, in the list of resins, categories 40, 42, 43, and 44 forbid the use of BPA in packaging material that comes into contact with food meant for consumption by infants, and specifically require that usage must comply with product safety standards. The public comment period on the draft lists closed on March 11, 2011.

According to a March 11 report on the Chinese Web site, which includes reporting from the Chinese newspaper Economic Information Daily, the European ban on BPA in baby bottles prompted a great deal of discussion in China, including in a blog post by a writer of popular science concerning BPA, who openly hinted that trace amounts of BPA in food containers made of polycarbonate plastic (PC), such as teapots, water cups, or baby bottles, can leach out, especially when the containers come into contact with acidic or hot substances. The report noted that news of a European ban on BPA in baby bottles had caused concern among mothers in China. The European Union (EU) has banned the manufacture in the EU of baby bottles containing BPA as of March 1, 2011, and the marketing in, or importing into, the EU of such products as of June 1. (See EU press release concerning the ban.) The same report referred to Canada's 2008 total ban on the use of BPA in any food containers and restrictions on the use of BPA in infant care products in some jurisdictions in the United States. The report notes that the secretary general of China's International Food Packaging Association, Dong Jinshi, had indicated in March that official regulations could be announced before June 1, 2011.

According to a March 2 Beijing News article, most baby bottles in China that are made of PC contain BPA. A Beijing news reporter had visited Beijing markets, and found that many infant food and drinks containers for sale were made of PC, but that the vast majority made in China did not indicate whether they contained BPA. Existing regulations appear to permit, or at least do not prohibit, the use of BPA in these products. The Shanghai Daily, in an April 22 article, reported that some local baby bottle producers in Shanghai had stopped using BPA in baby bottles in March, and that the authorities in Shanghai were prepared to "launch an inspection campaign" to ensure that bottles on the market comply with a ban once it comes into effect.

Currently, 1994 health standards for substances used in food containers and food packaging materials are in effect. The 1994 standards include limits on BPA amounts, but do not specifically address use in infant food containers, according to the March 11 report. The Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection's Chemical Registration Center maintains a list of toxic chemicals subject to import and export restrictions and BPA is not included on the list.

Update—June 9, 2011: The Chinese government has banned the manufacture of infant milk bottles made of polycarbonate and other infant milk bottles containing Bisphenol A (BPA). The Ministry of Health (MOH) announced the ban on May 30 in a post on the MOH Web site titled "Announcement from Six Departments Including the Ministry of Health on Banning the Use of Bisphenol A (BPA) in Baby Bottles." According to the announcement, the ban on the manufacture of such products became effective June 1, 2011, and a ban on the import and sale of such products will be effective starting September 1, 2011. The language used in this notice differs from a previous MOH draft announcement posted April 20, which stated that a ban on the manufacture or import of infant food containers containing BPA would be prohibited starting June 1, and a ban on the sale of such products would be effective starting September 1.
The May MOH announcement also states that:

  • beginning September 1, 2011, manufacturers or importers "will be responsible for a recall";
  • the use of BPA in food packaging materials and containers other than baby bottles must comply with the relevant existing national food safety standards and regulations;
  • manufacturers of food packaging and other containers must comply with the requirements of the MOH announcement, and the relevant industry associations must strengthen the supervision and self-regulation of the industry; and
  • bureaus that oversee food safety must increase their enforcement of supervision, strengthen the supervision and inspection of the manufacture of baby bottles, and investigate and punish illegal manufacturing activity that does not comply with the MOH's announcement.

The Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection, and Quarantine (AQSIQ) released a notice on its Web site on May 31, 2011, indicating that bureaus of quality and technical supervision will revoke the licenses for production of polycarbonate milk bottles. It further stipulates that manufacturers must take responsibility for recalling polycarbonate infant milk bottles and other infant milk bottles that contain BPA in accordance with the MOH announcement.
For Chinese media reports on the ban, see Xinhua (1 June 11) and the Global Times (1 June 11).