'Alarming' number of canned foods still contain BPA, new report warns
Published Tuesday, March 29, 2016 11:30PM EDT
Despite the push to remove bisphenol A from food packaging, the industrial chemical is still present in an “alarming” number of food can linings and lids, according to a new report.
The report, titled “Buyer Beware,” was prepared by six environmental and health groups in North America, including Breast Cancer Fund, Campaign for Healthier Solutions, and the Environmental Defence in Canada.
The groups analyzed the interior coatings and lids of 192 cans containing vegetables, fruits, soups, broth, gravy, milk or beans, and found that 129 of them, or 67 per cent, contained BPA-based epoxy in the body and/or the lid.
The cans were collected in 19 U.S. states and Ontario. Among the report’s findings:
- All Campbell’s cans (15 out of 15) contained BPA-based epoxy
- 10 out of 14 Del Monte cans tested positive for BPA-based epoxy resins.
- 18 out of 21 cans tested in Ontario (including cans from Loblaws, Walmart and FreshCo) had BPA in their linings
- 4 out of 5 private-label cans from Loblaws in Ontario tested positive for BPA-based epoxy resins
BPA is a chemical used to make some plastics as well as epoxy resins which are commonly used on the interior of food cans.
Several studies have suggested that BPA can mimic the hormone estrogen and possibly affect the behaviour, brain and prostate gland development in infants and children. Research has also suggested links between BPA and cancer and childhood obesity.
But the North American Metal Packaging Alliance, which represents the food and beverage packaging industry, says the “Buyer Beware” report “fails to address the critical issue of food safety and consumer protection.”
“Epoxy linings have provided a near perfect food protection system for close to 40 years,” the alliance said in a statement to CTV News.
“According to the U.S. FDA, there has not been a reported case of food borne illness from the failure of metal packaging in close to 40 years, or the equivalent of trillions and trillions of canned foods sold.
“Further, the report entirely ignores Health Canada's most recent safety assessment of BPA, which found current dietary exposure to BPA poses no risk to the general population, including newborns and young children."
Health Canada provides more details about its assessment on its website.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration also says that BPA is “safe at the current levels occurring in foods.”
But because of uncertainty raised in some studies over BPA’s impact on the health of infants and children, both Health Canada and the FDA have banned the use of the chemical in baby bottles.
The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in the U.S. says BPA can leach into food from the epoxy resins used in cans, as well as food storage containers and water bottles.
“The degree to which BPA leaches from polycarbonate bottles into liquid may depend more on the temperature of the liquid or bottle, than the age of the container,” the NIH says.
In recent years, there has been a push to remove BPA from all plastics, cans, toys and other items. But the “Buyer Beware” report says that large grocery retailers in the U.S., including Walmart and Target, are not acting fast enough -- or at all.
And while some retailers, like Safeway and Whole Foods, have made progress in reducing BPA levels in cans, “no retailer has a policy in place to completely eliminate BPA in all of its canned food,” the report says.
“We would like to see stronger language and stronger action from companies to make sure they are getting rid of BPA,” Maggie MacDonald, the toxic program manager at Environmental Defence, told CTV News.
She said the goal of the BPA report is not to scare consumers, but to provide them with information that can help them make better food choices.
How companies are responding to concerns
Some food companies are taking action. Del Monte, which started switching to non-BPA linings for some of its canned food products in 2009, has said that all of its fruit and tomato products, as well as “nearly 100 per cent” of its vegetable products, will also make the transition, starting with a new production this May.
And Campbell’s announced Tuesday that it will transition to cans without BPA linings by the middle of 2017.
The company said it began using cans with linings made from acrylic or polyester materials in March 2016 “and will continue to introduce the new linings across its U.S. and Canadian portfolio through 2017.”
MacDonald said Environmental Defence is “thrilled” by Campbell’s announcement.
“This is major,” she said. “A lot of people have Campbell's cans in their cupboards right now. So if Campbell’s is phasing it out, it's great news for consumers everywhere.”
In response to the “Buyer Beware” report, Loblaw said the company “has been a leader in addressing ingredients of concern in our products, including recent commitments on triclosan, pthalates and micro beads.
“Specific to BPA, we have altered products and packaging over the past few years with a primary focus on food for infants,” the company said in a statement to CTVNews.ca.
“The safety of the food and products we sell to Canadians is of the utmost importance to us and to that end this work continues.”
In a statement, Food and Consumer Products of Canada said its members take the BPA issue “very seriously” and that safety is “paramount.”
“Canada's current regulatory system for BPA is one of the most stringent in the world,” the organization’s vice-president of safety and compliance, Susan Abel, said.
“BPA is also a highly tested substance and at current levels of exposure governments globally continue to recognize its current use in can linings as safe. We rely on the sound science conducted at Health Canada to inform our decisions on the selection of safe materials."
The “Buyer Beware” report makes a number of recommendations aimed at grocery stores, big-box retailers and dollar stores, including that they commit to eliminating and safely substituting BPA from all food packaging, as well as label all chemicals used in can liners, including BPA or BPA alternatives.
The report also notes that products labelled “BPA-free” are not necessarily safe, a concern that has been raised before.
With a report from CTV’s medical specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip