Bisphenol A (BPA), a common chemical used in the metal linings of some canned foods, poses a serious health threat to consumers and should be banned, a new report claims.
BPA is ubiquitous in plastic products, found in baby bottles and sippy cups, and it has come under scrutiny in recent years, with studies linking it to a host of health and developmental problems. This latest research looked at its presence in the metal linings of canned foods.
Leeches into food
"We tested a wide variety of canned food products to determine whether BPA leeches from the can into the food," said report co-author, Mike Schade, the PVC campaign coordinator at the Centre for Health, Environment & Justice in New York City, US.
Foods tested included fruits, vegetables, fish, beans, soups and tomatoes, according to the report, which was released Tuesday.
"We found BPA in 92% of the canned food that we tested," Schade said. "Potential exposure to BPA, not just from one can, but from meals you prepare over the course of a day with canned food, can actually expose consumers to potentially harmful levels of BPA."
So, if you prepare a meal with canned tomato, beans and fish, you may be exposing yourself to levels of BPA that have been shown in animal tests to cause health problems, Schade said.
A group representing the canned food industry took issue with the findings.
"We are extremely disappointed that in their zeal to educate consumers, the workgroup pursued a clear agenda. In doing so, it failed to provide readers with the full story on BPA in canned foods," Dr John Rost, chairman of the North American Metal Packaging Alliance Inc, said in a statement.
"BPA-based epoxy coatings in metal packaging provide real, important and measurable health benefits by reducing the potential for the serious and often deadly effects from food-borne illnesses. Although the science supports the continued safe use of epoxy coatings, the industry is actively pursuing alternatives to meet growing consumer demand brought on by reports like this. However, there is simply no drop-in alternative available for the widest spectrum of food and beverages. Without a thoroughly tested substitute, the report's recommendation to forgo canned goods sacrifices a technology that has prevented food-borne illnesses for more than 30 years," Rost stated.
Schade noted there are alternatives to BPA available and some companies are starting to replace it in their cans. For example, Eden Foods has been offering food in BPA-free cans for more than 10 years, he said.
Muir Glen, a subsidiary of General Mills, is planning to take BPA out of its canned tomato cans, Schade added.
Schade is also concerned that the substitutes for BPA are safe. "We are very concerned and interested in ensuring that any material that companies switch to doesn't pose any significant health hazard," he said.
There are other packaging options, including glass and non-toxic plastics, Schade said.
The goal of the report's writers is to get the US Food and Drug Administration to ban BPA in food packaging. "From our perspective, BPA has no place in food packaging," Schade said.
Ban on BPA in food, drink containers
In addition, Congress needs to act to reduce BPA exposure by banning BPA in food and drink containers. In fact, US Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), is proposing just such an amendment to the Food Safety Act currently being considered in Congress.
Schade noted that the ban is needed because BPA is in so many products that consumers are bound to buy products that contain the chemical.
"Unfortunately, we can't shop our way out of this problem, because BPA is widespread in many different consumer products and that's why we need Congress to take action to ban BPA," he said.
Dr Sarah Janssen, a staff scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council in San Francisco, said that "in animal studies, exposure to BPA is associated with reproductive harm, alterations in behavior and brain development, increased risk of prostate and breast cancer, and an earlier onset of puberty."
And, she added, "The fact that BPA causes such a wide range of effects at low doses is really very concerning."
Laura N. Vandenberg, a post-doctoral fellow at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, said BPA is an oestrogen-like hormone that can cause reproductive problems.
"BPA has been linked to so many different disease and dysfunctions that it's not safe," she said. "It's not safe in any aspect of that word."
While exposure to BPA from canned food is relatively low, "the problem is we don't know all sources of BPA," Vandenberg said. "So canned food is probably a major source, but it's now been found in air, dust, water and medical equipment. So we are being exposed from sources we don't even realise and things we can't control."
The FDA has decided to take another look at BPA, which it has continually maintained is safe for human consumption.
In January, the FDA and other US health agencies pledged $30 million toward short- and long-term research aimed at clarifying the health effects of the chemical.
Report co-author Bobbi Chase Wilding, organizing director of Clean New York, said consumers can switch from canned foods to fresh and frozen foods.
"But consumers should also be reaching out to the manufacturers of the products they like and tell them that they want their cans to be free of BPA," she said. - (Steven Reinberg/HealthDay News, May 2010)