WASHINGTON — A new study by Consumer Reports magazine contends that some plastic cheese wraps leach a plasticizer at levels that could pose health problems.
But an industry organization said an adult would have to eat 1,000 pounds of the cheese a day to approach danger levels seen in animal testing, and said that the Food and Drug Administration permits unlimited use of the plasticizer, di(2-ethylhexyl) adipate.
The material is used in PVC food packaging to make it flexible.
The Consumers Union, the publisher of Consumer Reports magazine, said in a June 5 letter to FDA that it tested mainly cheddar cheese wrapped in PVC films and found levels of DEHA that it said were too high. The magazine published a story on packaging and endocrine disrupters in its June issue.
``While there is no conclusive evidence that the levels of DEHA we found in cheese are harmful, per se, there are reasons for concern about the potential health effects of this plasticizer,'' CU wrote.
An FDA spokeswoman said the agency has no response to the letter.
DEHA has induced liver tumors in mice, caused reproductive effects in animal studies and has not been evaluated adequately for endocrine disrupting effects, the letter said.
The magazine said it found an average of 51-160 parts per million of DEHA in the cheeses, and said that the Commission of the European Community has adopted a standard of 18 parts per million. An FDA spokeswoman said the tougher European standard is fairly new and declined comment on why the agency allows unlimited DEHA in food.
``It appears therefore that the levels of DEHA we found in cheeses wrapped in PVC film could readily cause many people who eat cheese to exceed the [European Economic Community's Scientific Committee on Food] recommended maximum safe daily intake,'' the CU letter said.
But the Arlington, Va.-based Chemical Manufacturers Association said it is not aware of any evidence that plasticizers act as endocrine disrupters or cause adverse health effects in humans.
The Environmental Protection Agency removed DEHA from its toxic release inventory reporting requirements several years ago, and found that it is not an endocrine disrupter, said Marian Stanley, manager of CMA's phthalate esters panel.
Any health effects from phthalates and adipates in animals happens at very high doses, and the plasticizer levels in the Consumer Reports study are 1,000 times lower than problem dose levels in animal tests, she said. Also, the liver test results in mice do not apply to humans, Stanley said.
The CU study came as an EPA panel held its final meeting in June on developing testing procedures for endocrine disrupters.
An official with the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. in Washington said the final report is not likely to be much different than a draft version, which industry officials said was generally favorable to plastics because it put most of them on a slower track for testing.