Indonesian BPA Risk Label: One More Step to Go

The plan to put Bifesnol A label on packaged drinking water is facing some tough challenges.

On November 28, 2021, The National Agency for Drug and Food Control or BPOM, also informally known as the Indonesian FDA, had released the bill to amend BPOM Regulation No. 31 Year 2018 regarding the Labeling of Processed Goods. In the revision bill, BPOM among which will regulate drinking water products using polycarbonate plastic containers (hard plastic) to include a warning label that says “Potentially Contains BPA”, better known as Bisfenol A. The completion of harmonization of the said bill on drinking water gallons was announced earlier this year, gaining warm response from Indonesian Consumers Foundation (YLKI).

On paper, at the surface, the news may seem like a public victory, considering the bill harmonization phase is a crucial phase towards the legalization of the bill at the Cabinet Secretary. However, this last step may prove to be the hardest yet due to several challenges posed by the drinking water industry, as represented by ASPADIN, the Association of Packaged Drinking Water Companies ever since BPOM proposed the bill.

In the middle of the government’s struggle in facing the difficulty to provide ready-to-drink piped water, according to the latest survey from The Ministry of Health, more than 40% of the Indonesian population consumes packaged water on a daily basis.

Numerous parties, including YLKI, had from the start welcomed BPOM’s initiative regarding the plan for the labeling because it would be the first opportunity for the people let themselves be informed about the potential danger posed by BPA element in water gallons which had practically become a common item in almost every single house in the urban city area.

The labeling especially aims at branded water gallons, the number of which said to reach up to 170 million, most of which is based on polycarbonate material, a kind of hard plastic produced using some element of BPA.

In retrospect, the rejection against BPA risk labeling is similar to the rejection against the labeling for the danger of smoking back in 2009. Only this time, the packaged water industry gave quite an intense response, especially on the media.

ASPADIN since the beginning had referred to the labeling as a “death sentence” to the water gallon industry. The association’s officials, often lead by a senior employee from Danone-Aqua, described BPOM’s bill as something “rushed” with no scientific ground. Other than also presenting the public with a number of scenarios as the negative results should the bill be passed as law, including termination of employment of a lot of workers in the industry and how it would disturb the public.

“Since gallons for drinking water were made available in Indonesia in 1983, there has not been one single study, safety incident or any health report due to drinking water consumption in Indonesia,” stated ASPEDIN in their objection letter to BPOM.

The drinking water industry’s drama flows even further as the Ministry of Trade and the Coordinating Ministry of Economic Affairs decided to instead put “disinformation” label on numerous news regarding the potential danger of BPA in drinking water packaged in gallon containers.

Head of BPOM, Penny K. Lukito, had also explained how the labeling was not in any way intended to ban the distribution of polycarbonate gallon container but only to anticipate health issues that the Indonesian people may face in the future. The labeling will also target branded gallon containers with wide distribution network.

Along with the announcement of the completion of the bill harmonization process at the beginning of this year, BPOM’s senior official had also revealed that they had found “a number of concerning tendencies” regarding BPA in the re-usage of polycarbonate-based drinking water gallon container. The findings were based on ‘post-market’ sample test from 2021 to 2022 across Indonesia with a conclusion that toddlers in the age group of 6 to 11 months risk BPA exposure 2.4 times more than the safety limit, whereas children from the age of 1 to 4 years are 2.12 times.

Unfortunately, BPOM’s strong message didn’t end up in any significant public discussion and had not caused the industry to make some improvements

Right now, we are actually opening a new page about the bill as recent news highlights how the bill was returned to BPOM by the Cabinet Secretary because the president could not approve it, because it was deemed to have the potential to trigger a “business competition”. There’s also a rumor that the Secretariat is basing its decision on a recommendation from an internal discussion at the Coordinating Ministry of Economic Affairs.

Arist Merdeka Sirait, the Chairman of the Indonesian National Committee for Child Protection (KPA) had recently stated to the media that he could not understand why the process would take so long for the bill to be passed. Moreover, he said that the risk at stake is quite big, namely the health of the people, especially for the sensitive age groups, infants, toddlers and fetus.

“Officials should prioritize health issues.” He added.

Meanwhile, Willy Hanafi, Advocation Coordinator of FMCG Insights, a Jakarta-based consumer product research institution, felt that ASPADIN’s current response towards the issue indicates a certain act of intervention upon the bill, something that should be able to be avoided in any country.

“Moreover, if the Association even issued a strong statement 100% guaranteeing the safety of drinking water in gallon container for consumption.” said Willy.

In Indonesia, packaged drinking water is distributed using refill system. Customer only needs to pay Rp35,000. – for the gallon and Rp19,000 for each refill – using the maximum price set by Danone’s product, Aqua.

The majority of re-usable gallons is consumed by people from the urban middle-upper class, mainly in Greater Jakarta, Java and other big cities.

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