WASHINGTON, DC, March 30, 2016 (ENS) – A new report from six health and environmental groups finds 67 percent of nearly 200 food cans from dozens of brands and retailers tested positive for Bisphenol A, a hormone-disrupting chemical linked to increased risk of breast and prostate cancers, infertility and type-2 diabetes.
The report, “Buyer Beware: Toxic BPA & Regrettable Substitutes in the Linings of Canned Food,” was a collaborative effort by: the Breast Cancer Fund; Campaign for Healthier Solutions; Clean Production Action; Ecology Center; Environmental Defence (Canada); and Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families’ Mind the Store campaign.
“Our findings were alarming,” the authors say. “We expected that the explosion in consumer demand for BPA-free packaging would have resulted in swifter action by canned food brands and retailers. However, 67 percent of the 192 cans tested 129 contained BPA-based epoxy in the body and/or the lid.”
Hundreds of scientific studies have linked low levels of BPA, measured in parts per billion and even parts per trillion, to an increased risk of breast and prostate cancer, infertility, type-2 diabetes, obesity, asthma, and behavioral changes including attention deficit disorder.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration claims that BPA is safe for adults to consume at the current levels, but in 2012 the agency banned the sale of baby bottles and children’s cups containing BPA.
“Food manufacturers refused to tell us what chemicals were in their cans, so we reverse engineered and tested them ourselves,” said Jeff Gearhart, the Ecology Center’s HealthyStuff.org research director. “Since they can’t hide these chemicals from consumers anymore, perhaps they will be more motivated to use safer materials.”
Some companies have made promises to discontinue lining their cans with BPA-based chemicals. But the “Buyer Beware” analysis shows that, across the board, canned food manufacturers large and small are not making good on these promises.
Some canned food companies are replacing BPA with other chemicals. For the first time, this report identifies the replacement materials in can linings, and documents their safety.
The study found 100 percent of Campbell’s cans tested (15 out of 15) contained BPA-based epoxy, even though the company claims to be making progress in its transition away from BPA.
On Monday, Campbell’s outlined the company’s plans to remove Bisphenol A from the linings of its cans by the middle of 2017 and transition to acrylic or polyester linings in all its soup cans.
Campbell’s first announced its intention to move away from BPA can linings in February 2012. Mark Alexander, president of President, Americas Simple Meals & Beverages, a Campbell’s company, said Monday that the technical and financial challenges have proven daunting and the company is still dealing with the “enormity of the task.”
“We ship nearly two billion cans each year, comprising more than 600 different recipes. Making a change of this magnitude requires input from hundreds of employees across the company,” Alexander said.
A particular challenge is cans containing tomatoes, which are naturally acidic and can react with some linings over time, said Alexander.
He emphasized that Campbell’s does not plan to pass the costs of making these changes on to consumers.
The “Buyer Beware” study tested 14 cans of food from the Del Monte brand and found that 71 percent (10 out of 14) tested positive for BPA-based epoxy resins.
Scott Butler, Del Monte’s vice president of research and development, quality assurance and operation services, told the “San Jose Mercury News” today, “It’s something we’ve been working on for five to seven years, and it’s been a complex journey to find alternatives that would meet our quality guidelines.”
Despite the difficulties, Butler says that starting in May, Del Monte fruit and tomato products, and nearly all of its vegetables, will be sold in BPA-free cans.
Of the 12 General Mills cans sampled for the study, half tested positive for BPA, including Progresso and Green Giant.
General Mills, Hormel and J.M. Smucker Company have not indicated a goal or timeline to move away from BPA can linings.
But not all the news is bad.
Amy’s Kitchen, Annie’s Homegrown (recently acquired by General Mills), Hain Celestial Group and ConAgra have fully transitioned away from the use of BPA and have disclosed their BPA alternatives. No BPA-based epoxy resins were detected in any of the cans tested from these brands.
ConAgra Foods announced last July that all of the company’s facilities in the United States and Canada have completed the transition to cans without BPA liners.
Gail Tavill, vice president, packaging and sustainable productivity, ConAgra Foods, said then, “We recognize consumer interest in removing BPA from our cans and are pleased to be able to respond to that desire and offer food that our consumers can feel confident in.”
Eden Foods reported eliminating the use of BPA-based epoxy liners in 95 percent of its canned foods and said it is actively looking for alternatives. No BPA epoxy was detected in the Eden canned foods that were tested.
In retailers’ private label canned foods, test results and BPA policies are all over the map.
BPA was found in the majority of private label canned goods tested at the two biggest dedicated grocery retailers in the United States: Kroger and Albertsons (Safeway).
In private label cans, 62 percent of Kroger products (13 out of 21), and 50 percent of Albertsons products (8 out of 16 from Albertsons, Randalls, Safeway) tested positive for BPA-based epoxy resins. Both retailers have adopted policies to reduce BPA in canned food, but testing for the “Buyer Beware” study showed that BPA is still commonly found in their products.
Five retailers: Dollar General, Dollar Tree and Family Dollar, Gordon Food Service, Meijer and Target, had BPA-based epoxy coatings in all tested cans of beans and tomatoes.
BPA was found in private label cans sold at both Target and Walmart, the largest grocery retailer in the United States. In their private label products, 100 percent of Target cans (5 out of 5), and 88 percent of Walmart cans (7 out of 8) tested positive for BPA-based epoxy resins.
Neither of these major retailers has policies in place to eliminate BPA in canned food, while Albertsons, Safeway, Kroger, Publix, Wegmans and Whole Foods have adopted policies to reduce the use of BPA in their private label canned food.
Whole Foods has adopted the strongest policy of the retailers. Whole Foods reports that store brand “buyers are not currently accepting any new canned items with BPA in the lining material.
BPA in canned foods is not restricted to the United States. In Canada, 80 percent of Loblaws’ private label cans (4 out of 5) tested positive for BPA-based epoxy resins in the “Buyer Beware” screening. Loblaws is Canada’s largest grocery chain.
Canada banned the use of BPA in baby bottles in 2010.
The momentum for restricting or prohibiting BPA in food packaging is now global, the report finds, although few national governments besides France have attempted to regulate BPA in food can linings.
The European Union banned the use of BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups in 2011 (Directive 2011/8/EU), but the ban was rescinded in 2015 after the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) published a contentious re-evaluation of BPA exposure and toxicity.
However, some EU nation states continue to regulate BPA more strictly, despite the EFSA ruling, including Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France and Sweden.
Only one country, France, has banned BPA from the lining of all food cans. France banned the use of BPA in all food containers as of 2015 and in infant food packaging as of 2013. Previously, several French cities had banned baby bottles made with BPA in city nurseries and daycare centers.
Effective July 1, 2010, Denmark placed a temporary national ban on BPA in materials in contact with food for children aged 0–3 years – things such as infant feeding bottles, feeding cups and baby food packaging.
In 2013, Belgium placed a similar ban.
Costa Rica banned BPA in baby bottles and other containers for feeding children in 2010.
The “Buyer Beware” report is intended as a wake-up call for national brands and retailers who are eliminating BPA in favor of what the authors call “regrettable substitutions.”
“Consumers want BPA-free food cans that are truly safer, not food cans lined with materials comprised of known or possible carcinogens, such as vinyl chloride (used to make PVC) or styrene (present in some acrylic coatings),” the report states.
Watchdog groups, including the authors of this report, are calling on the canned food industry to make full ingredient disclosure, and conduct publicly transparent hazard assessments of BPA-replacement chemicals using the GreenScreen® for Safer Chemicals, to ensure that they are safe for human health and the planet.
The GreenScreen® for Safer Chemicals, a method for comparative chemical hazard assessment, uses research and data collection coupled with expert judgment to find safe substitutes for hazardous chemicals.
“BPA-free doesn’t mean a can lining is safe, as the substitute could itself be harmful. That is why we are asking companies to take the GreenScreen Challenge and work with us to demonstrate the chemical safety of their can liners,” said Clean Production Action’s Beverley Thorpe, who helps companies understand the value of the GreenScreen® as a tool for replacing toxic chemicals with safe alternatives.
Finally, to ensure food is safe to eat or drink, the “Buyer Beware” report recommends that consumers:
• Use glass, ceramic and stainless steel food storage containers and water bottles. Glass jars are easy to clean and can be reused for serving, drinking, storing, freezing and heating foods.
• Use glass and ceramic in the microwave.
• Avoid canned foods whenever possible, choosing fresh and frozen foods instead.
• Look for soups and sauces in glass or other safe packaging.
• Skip the can. Soak beans overnight and cook them the next day, or use a pressure cooker for dried beans, which will be recipe-ready in an hour.
“Most people in the United States are exposed to BPA every day, largely from food packaging, despite the negative health impacts. It shouldn’t be a buyer beware situation for shoppers every time they set foot in the canned food aisle,” said Janet Nudelman, director of Program and Policy for the Breast Cancer Fund.
“Campbell’s and other major national brands need to get BPA out of food can linings and fully disclose the identity and safety of any BPA alternatives they’re using,” Nudelman said. “Consumers deserve protection from the toxic effects of this hormonally active chemical and the likelihood of exposure to unsafe toxic alternatives.”