Non-profit campaigns and health-advocacy groups have devoted years to alerting the public about how the chemical Bisphenol A, known as BPA, may cause hormone disruption—which is of particular concern for young children and pregnant women. Now, thanks in large part to those campaigns, many food companies have said they will remove the chemical from their cans.
But a new report from a group of non-profits shows that many cans on U.S. grocery stores shelves still contain BPA. More than two thirds of cans tested, including products by some of America's largest food companies, contain the chemical, according to the report. Even in cans where BPA has been removed, the report claims, food companies have provided little information about what they are using in their canned good instead.
"This is shocking to us because we’ve been hearing for years now that the canned food industry en masse was moving away from BPA," says report co-author Janet Nudelman, director of program and policy at the advocacy group Breast Cancer Fund.
According to the report, all of the Campbell’s cans tested, 71% of those from Del Monte and 50% of sampled General Mills cans contained BPA. Amy’s Kitchen, Annie’s Homegrown, Hain Celestial Group and ConAgra have all transitioned away from BPA—and that was reflected in the test results in the report, as well; those tested in this study were free of BPA. The report says that some of the companies found to have BPA in their cans have previously made commitments to phase out the chemical.
On Monday, Campbell's announced that it would "complete a transition to cans which do not use Bisphenol A (BPA) linings by the middle of 2017"—the completion of a promise first made back in 2012. Del Monte also announced this week that it would phase out BPA this year. Whole Foods was among the companies that have made commitments to eliminate BPA but which was found in this report to have some products that still contain it, has said that "buyers are not currently accepting any new canned items with BPA in the lining material." Similarly, Alberstons says that it is transitioning away from the chemical in "as many products as possible."
A body of research in recent years has suggested that BPA is an endocrine disruptor linked with infertility, obesity, diabetes and reproductive problems. A study published this week suggests that it may be associated with preterm birth. Some of this evidence, taken together, prompted the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to announce a ban of the chemical from some baby products like sippy cups in 2012. The agency maintains that the chemical is still safe for adults. (A spokesperson for the American Chemistry Council trade group did not return a request for comment on the safety of BPA.)
Complicating things is the fact that despite the outcry over BPA, scientists have yet to find a reliable alternative that can effectively serve the same purpose as BPA—keeping the can from corroding and affecting food—without many of the same concerns. Many of the alternatives that have been employed thus far, including Bisphenol S and F, exhibit the same properties in BPA, a recent study showed.
"The question is 'What did they replace it with?'" says University of Calgary researcher Deborah Kurrasch, who has written on BPA alternatives.
The report was published by product-safety advocacy groups including the Breast Cancer Fund, Campaign for Healthier Solutions, Canada's Environmental Defence and Safer Chemicals, among others.