How safe is BPA

Campbell's Soup has announced recently that it will stop using bisphenol-A (BPA) in the linings of its cans, despite the FDA continuing to allow its use. This is an exciting achievement for consumers for a number of reasons:

  1. Campbell's is a huge brand and by taking this stand they are putting a spotlight on the issue and putting pressure on other brands to follow suit.
  2. They have made this decision on the basis of customer feedback as opposed to regulatory requirements which demonstrates the power of consumers to make a difference.
  3. The third and possibly most important reason is that BPA has been identified by scientists and endocrinologists as an endocrine disruptor or a chemical that behaves like hormones.

What is BPA?
bisphenol-A, or BPA is one of the most commonly used chemicals around, it is used in the linings of many types of canned food, as well as other food and drinks packaging, in the production of hard plastic containers and also in many eftpos, ATM and till receipts.

What is the problem with BPA?
According to the Breast Cancer Fund (March 2012),`Exposure to BPA, used to make the epoxy-resin linings of metal food cans, has been linked in lab studies to breast and prostate cancer, infertility, early puberty in girls, type-2 diabetes, obesity and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Childhood exposure is of concern because this endocrine-disrupting chemical can affect children's hormonal systems during development and set the stage for later-life diseases'. Read the full press release.

Aren't there regulations in place to protect us?
Unfortunately legislation has lagged behind in some areas and we can't always depend on it to protect our health. Dr Pete Myers (CEO and chief scientist of Environmental Health Sciences) says, `it does a better job of protecting products than it does children'. According to Myers, regulatory toxicology depends on standardised assays which at times are decades old and can't keep up with cutting edge academic work, which means people are using outdated assays to look at 21st century phenomena. He says this is a bit like comparing the hubble telescope with ordinary binoculars to see distant galaxies or to even know that they exist.

Low level impact
Myers has found that endocrine disrupting chemicals such as BPA can have serious effects on health at much lower levels than previously understood. He says, ‘changes in gene expression can happen at low levels - levels that couldn't even be measured 20 years ago'. Read the full report from Environmental Health News. (Warning: mice have been used in a related obesity study and are pictured in this article).

How did consumers convince Campbell's to remove BPA?
In September 2011 an the Breast Cancer Fund launched a campaign called ‘Cans Not Cancer' which generated more than 70,000 letters to Campbell's requesting that they remove BPA from their can linings.

Where does the FDA stand on BPA?
Despite widespread concern about BPA and the call to action from groups like the Breast Cancer Fund and Healthy Child, Healthy World, the US Food and Drug Administration announced at the end of March 2012 that they will continue to allow the use of BPA.

Huffington Post Article - ‘FDA Wrong not to Ban BPA, Health Advocates Say.'

Breast Cancer Fund blog - FDA Won't Ban BPA Chemical in Packaging (ABC News, 3/30/12)

Greenbiz blog - FDA rejects petition to ban BPA from food packaging

What's happening in New Zealand and Australia?

Many suppliers of baby bottles have voluntarily phased out polycarbonate baby bottles which contain BPA. ‘BPA-free' bottles are now more readily available. Polycarbonate bottles can still be found on shop shelves however and are usually identified by the number 7 with the letters “PC” below.

Shouldn't precautionary measures be taken?

In their book ‘Slow Death by Rubber Duck', authors Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie have said, ‘What we've seen with bisphenol A in North America in the last year is many parents waking up to the fact that their governments are not doing enough to protect their children's health' (p.252). In the face of lagging legislation and continuing debate isn't the best answer is to take precautionary steps and eliminate or at least reduce our exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals like BPA? What do you think? Do you have any useful tips to share for ways to avoid products that might contain BPA?