Recently I have been reintroduced to this issue when I read about the high amounts of BPA in canned foods. Specifically the following statement released by The Organics Consumer Association, took my breath away, " BPA mimics the effect of estrogen in the body. In animal studies, small amounts of the chemical, as little as 25 parts per billion, have been linked to conditions such as early puberty and cancer." (In the 1930s, BPA was used as a synthetic substitute for the female hormone estrogen.) At one point this may have been a sentence I would have skimmed over. But after a diagnosis of estrogen receptor positive breast cancer in 2009, (age 40, no risk factors) the idea that a can of tomatoes was the potential culprit really hit home.
Here's the craziest part. After years of buying organic cans of foods at a significantly higher cost I make the discovery that most of them are packaged in BPA lined cans. I can't think of a better time to write it. WTF?!? So the many years of serving enough vegetables to my family believing that canned foods provided extra vitamins (many can manufacturers spin the value of canned foods even exceeds fresh because the vegetables are picked at their height of freshness and then sealed in) is now overridden by the idea that I was plateing a nice little helping of a chemical toxins too.
So I wrote to two of the companies I frequently buy canned goods from, Muier Glen Organics and Trader Joes inquiring on their use of using BPA lined cans and their plans for alternatives. Here are their responses:
From Muier Glen:
Most metal cans in the food industry utilize BPA in the can lining or can lid. Some of our products do, and many competitors′ products do as well.
Muir Glen continues to believe BPA is safe. However, we know that some of our consumers have wanted us to pursue alternatives. We have been working with our can suppliers and can manufacturers to develop and test alternative linings that do not use BPA for some time.
From Trader Joes: Please know that this is an industry-wide issue for manufacturers of
food-grade cans and canned foods. Work is being done within the industry to develop alternative, BPA-free linings for canned products. The cannedfood industry has relied on this method for many years and is scrambling to come up with solutions that do not trade one perceived problem for a
degradation in food safety.
All of our products and packaging are within food safety guidelines and regulations.
(Editors note: A call to Trader Joes public relations revealed that canned corn, canned beans, canned fish, canned poultry, and canned beef at Trader Joe's are all packaged in BPA free cans.)
Most companies, including organics, are using BPA in the name of food safety. One exception is Eden Foods, a natural and organic food company based in Michigan which sells most of its canned food, except the highly acidic tomato products, in BPA-free cans. Eden's president, Micheal Potter, (a pioneer on the non-GMO project as well as a leader in using BPA free cans) states that most canned-good manufacturers should have no trouble following his company's lead, given that a 15-ounce BPA-free can costs only 2.2 cents more.
So what is the hold up? My husband asked me if it wasn't safe, why wasn't the FDA all over it. I'm sure that is what most consumers think. And yet, I am newly distrustful of our government agencies designed to protect our safety. See: Concerns for our Food Industry and the discussion regarding deregulation of genetically engineered alfafa. As recently as 2008, Consumer Reports reported, " the FDA pronounced the chemical safe for use in baby bottles and other food containers, even though a 2008 report from another federal agency, the National Toxicology Program, concluded that BPA was of “some concern for effects on the brain, behavior and prostate gland in fetuses, infants and children at current human exposures.” Consumer Reports states that "food safety experts at Consumers Union believe federal regulatory guidelines—which are the same as those set by the European Food Safety Authority—are outdated and fail to adequately protect consumers." A year ago, FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg announced a shift in her agency's stance on the health risks posed by BPA but as of today the agency continues to maintain that it is taking steps to evaluate the risks imposed. And as of today the USDA has missed 3 of its self-imposed deadlines on issuing consumer guidelines on the risks of BPA.
Plus, is all of these "taking steps" enough? The scientists at the Center for Disease Control found BPA in more than 90% of the urine samples representative of the U.S. population. Currently there are over 200 independent studies confirming the health concerns surrounding BPA including 92% of 163 government-funded studies finding "significant negative effects" from low-level exposure to BPA. Based on these studies, the average person might consider ways in which to lower their risk to BPA but it won't be easy. In a November 2009, New York Times article, author Nicholas Kristof claims that the "US now produces the equivalent of six pounds of BPA per person per year."
So why do food companies continue to manufacture in BPA lined cans? The Grocery Manufacturers Association continues to maintain despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary that " Bisphenol A (BPA) has been used for more than 30 years to improve the safety and quality of food and beverages, primarily by providing protective coatings for cans. Scientists and regulatory agencies that continue to watch the latest science and have reviewed BPA have repeatedly concluded that BPA is safe for use in these products."
The truth seems to lie somewhere in the challenges that manufacturers face switching to a safer alternative. They state concerns of potential cost constraints, lack of viable substitutions, and posing a confusion for consumers. And continue to maintain its safety. The BPA industry itself fiercly denies any significant risk. (Incidently, the BPA industry uses the same lobbying firm as the tobacco industry, another danger that our government agencies moved famously slow on.)
What can we do? Vote with your pocketbook. Eden has been effectively been canning its foods in a BPA free can since 1999. Another safe alternative are Pomi boxed tomatoes. They are delicious, available for order by the case from the manufacturer as well as amazon.com. Four companies that are actively pursuing safe alternatives to BPA lined cans are Hain Celestial, Con Agra, HJ. Hein, and General Mills but at this time are still using BPA.
Click here for the summary scorecard of Manufacturers plans to phase out BPA.
The best we can do is spead the word about the potential dangers, be a conscious consumer, and lean towards, fresh, organic, and local foods.