Buyer Beware

Bisphenol-A and Regrettable Substitutes found in the Linings of Canned Food

 

A new report released today by six nonprofit organizations that tested food can linings for the toxic chemical, Bisphenol A (BPA) found that two out of three cans tested have the toxic chemical in the lining.  BPA is an endocrine-disrupting chemical that negatively impacts our hormonal systems, contributing to a host of harmful health effects including breast and prostate cancer, infertility, type-2 diabetes, obesity, asthma and attention deficit disorder. 

For the first time ever, this report also looked at the replacement materials for BPA in can linings, and to what extent – if any -- their safety has been studied. 

Buyer Beware: Toxic BPA & Regrettable Substitutes in the Linings of Canned Food (#BPA #ToxicFoodCans) was conceived and authored 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. (Download the FULL REPORT).

The report identified and analyzed the interior linings and lids of nearly 200 canned foods containing vegetables, fruits, soups, broth, gravy, milk and beans. 

The findings were alarming:

  • 100 percent of Campbell’s products sampled (15 of 15) contained BPA-based epoxy, while the company says they are making significant progress in its transition away from BPA. Upon learning about the upcoming report, Campbell’s announced they will eliminate BPA in North American cans by mid- 2017. But, report authors state the announcement leaves out important details, such as public disclosure of the safety of their alternatives to BPA.
  • 71 percent of sampled Del Monte cans (10 of 14) tested positive for BPA-based epoxy resins.
  • 50 percent of sampled General Mills cans (6 of 12, including Progresso and Green Giant) tested positive for BPA.
  • Collectively, 62 percent of private-label, or generic food cans (71 out of 114) from retailers analyzed in the study tested positive for BPA-based epoxy resins, including Albertsons (including Randalls and Safeway), Dollar General, Dollar Tree (including Family Dollar), Gordon Food Service, Kroger, Loblaws, Meijer, Publix, Target, Trader Joe’s, and Walmart.
  • Broth and gravy cans were the most likely (100 percent) to contain BPA in the can linings; corn and peas were the least likely category (41 percent).
  • On the positive side, Amy’s Kitchen, Annie’s Organic (recently acquired by General Mills), Hain Celestial Group, and ConAgra have fully transitioned away from BPA and have disclosed the BPA alternatives. Eden Foods reported eliminating the use of BPA-based epoxy liners in 95 percent of its canned foods and stated that it is actively looking for alternatives.

What about the alternatives?

The report found that retailers and brands who are phasing out BPA could be replacing it with regrettable substitutes. Identifying the safety of BPA alternatives is challenging, given the limited FDA review and approval of packaging additives and highly protected trade secrets in this product sector. However, the report found that:

  • Aside from BPA, four major coating types were identified among the 192 cans tested including acrylic resins, oleoresin, polyester resins, and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) copolymers. There were multiple formulations of these compounds found, but no way to determine the specific chemicals used or how they are produced. 
  • 18 percent of retailers’ private-label foods and 36 percent of national brands were lined with a PVC-based copolymer, which is made from vinyl chloride, a known carcinogen. 
  • Aside from Amy’s Kitchen and Eden Foods, no national brands are labeling their products “BPA-free,” and none discloses the BPA alternatives on the label.  
  • Much more research is needed to determine the safety of these compounds, and how much migrates from the can linings into food.

The report includes numerous recommendations including:

  • National brands, grocery stores, big-box retailers and dollar stores should eliminate and safely substitute BPA from all food packaging and label all chemicals used in can liners.
  • Congress should adopt the “Ban Poisonous Additives Act” to reform the FDA’s fatally flawed system for reviewing and approving the safety of packaging material.
  • Consumers should avoid canned food whenever possible (choose fresh or frozen instead); or only purchase canned food from manufacturers and retailers that fully disclose the identity and safety of their can linings. 

Quotes from the report authors:

“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.  Only then will consumers be protected from the toxic effects of this hormonally active chemical and the likelihood of exposure to equally toxic alternatives.”

"Food manufacturers refused to tell us what chemicals were in their cans, so we reverse engineered and tested them ourselves," said Jeff Gearhart, MS, 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.” 

"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® for Safer Chemicals as an essential tool for replacing toxic chemicals with safe alternatives.

"The fact that most of our food cans contain endocrine-disrupting BPA means that most of us are regularly eating food contaminated with the hormone-mimicking chemical,” said Maggie MacDonald, Toxics Program manager at Environmental Defence Canada. “This is very disconcerting since those rely on canned foods in their diets are at continuous risk of developing serious health problems."

"This new report should be a wake-up call for grocery and big box retailers across the nation," said Mike Schade, Mind the Store Campaign Director with Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families.  "We found 62% of Kroger's cans tested positive for toxic BPA.  As the largest grocery chain in the country, Kroger should be leading the way by developing a timeframe for phasing out and safely substituting BPA in all of their canned food."

”While some families are fortunate to have access and means to purchase fresh produce, many communities across America have no choice but to buy canned food lined with toxic BPA,” said Jose Bravo, coordinator of the Campaign for Healthier Solutions. “Some families live in a food desert where fresh food simply isn’t available, or they can only afford the cheap food sold at dollar stores. These communities, people of color and low-income families are already exposed to toxic chemicals more frequently and at higher levels than the average American. The use of toxic BPA in canned foods means that families will sit down to a double serving of harmful chemicals.”

 

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Published on March 22, 2016

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