by Marion Nestle
May 27 2010

The Bisphenol A saga heats up

A coalition of public health and environmental groups, collectively known as the National Workgroup for Safe Markets, has produced a report on the amounts of Bisphenol A (BPA) in canned foods: No Silver Lining: An Investigation into Bisphenol A in Canned Foods.

What did it find?  BPA in 92% of the foods sampled.  Most canned foods are lined with BPA plastic, and it leaches into the foods.

I’ve discussed concerns about the health effects of BPA in previous posts.  Here is an update on attempts to get rid of it.

To put all this in context, take a look at Jerome Groopman’s New Yorker article, The Plastic Panic: How Worried Should We Be About Everyday Chemicals? He isn’t exactly sure, but points out how difficult it is to test the health effects of any one of many chemicals in our environment–flame retardants and plastics among them–and how far regulation lags in dealing with this problem.  He concludes:

How do we go forward? Flame retardants surely serve a purpose, just as BPA and phthalates have made for better and stronger plastics. Still, while the evidence of these chemicals’ health consequences may be far from conclusive, safer alternatives need to be sought. More important, policymakers must create a better system for making decisions about when to ban these types of substances, and must invest in the research that will inform those decisions. There’s no guarantee that we’ll always be right, but protecting those at the greatest risk shouldn’t be deferred.

Given the evidence brought forth to date on BPA, I’d call this an understatement.

  • Anthro

    Any idea what would be considered a risky level of canned food consumption? I’ve minimized canned food the last few years, but certainly fed plenty of it to my kids, especially tomatoes, which cans were lined with the white coating–how does that differ from the BPA coating?

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  • fanisse

    I just can’t get that worked up about this. It sounds like the science behind it shaky at best:

  • Tomatoes are one that I’d be most worried about because their natural acidity would be quicker to break down the plastic. I buy tomatoes in glass or can my own.
    I know that BPA in particular isn’t that conclusively dangerous, but the greater point is that we’re being deceived about what IS known about the things that are being used in our food, and our government isn’t doing a good enough job at making sure chemicals are safe BEFORE starting to use them extensively in our food system.

  • Joann

    BPA is everywhere, unfortunately it is also in canning lids.

  • This is an older article, but I just happened to find it before reading this post it says that BPA is even present in cash register receipts.

  • I agree with you that the government should not delay to take action upon this. I think, no only pets suffer from the harm of BAP, but also people. I am young painter from China. My website is: I was painting some pet portrait painting recently. And, the more I learn about pets, the more that I like them. Let’s protect our pets friends together.

  • Anthro

    Thanks for all the info fellow posters. I’m alarmed about the canning lids as I’ve been canning for years and years, although not as much lately. Is nothing free from plastics? Canning lids certainly didn’t have plastic in them when I was a child and they worked just fine–didn’t they? What’s the reason for changing to BPA-containing plastics? It’s not so much that I am worried that the amount of BPA in canning lids will kill me, it’s the insidiousness of these things creeping into every area of our lives that bothers me. It’s getting difficult to impossible to get many things in glass anymore. Ketchup anyone? Only one brand at my store still does peanut butter in jars and even the co-op puts it in plastic deli containers. At a huge mega-market, I could only find ONE (very pricey) brand of honey in a jar. I’ve never seen tomatoes in jars, only a few pricey fruits. I know plastic is lighter and saves on shipping, to say nothing of breakage, but it would be nice to have a choice.

  • Susan Priano

    Have you ever wondered about the rising cancer rates? The environmental load most certainly is a contributor. Recognize also many of us use canned pet food. And yes, some of our pets have small rapidly developing bodies, what is the debt load to these creatures? Again no research available but we all have common sense.

  • Neil

    BpA is a menace. Ban it already! Darn the opposition!
    Article 1:Toxic environment and obesity pandemia: Is there a relationship? Italian Journal of Pediatrics v. 36
    Article 2: Dolinoy, DC, D Huang and RL Jirtle. 2007. Maternal nutrient supplementation counteracts bisphenol A-induced DNA hypomethylation in early development. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 104:13056-13061.

  • Cathy Richards

    Marion — I hesitate to correct you, as you are my guru. Howerver…

    Infants are not most at risk. Infants can easily be breastfed, thus avoiding BPA in bottles and in formula through exposure of cattle to environmental contaminents (although mother’s diet will affect BPA in breastmilk). Yes a ban on BPA in baby bottles makes sense, but it is a bandaid, a thumb in the proverbial dam, and will make government and industry look great without having any significant impact on the root of the problem.

    Fetuses are most at risk. They have no alternative but mother’s blood filtered through the placenta. BPA has been shown to affect the behavior and sexual organs of rat pups who were exposed to BPA in utero.

    But fetuses are most at risk because mother’s are exposed to BPA everywhere. So — we must protect women of child bearing age, ergo we must protect everyone.

    BPA, period, needs to be banned. Not BPA in this, or BPA in that. BPA.

    And let’s hope the alternatives that industry comes up with are actually better. In the meantime, I buy big amounts of local produce when it’s in season and can it at home when I have the mojo to do so. If the power ever goes out, I’ll have food around that doesn’t require energy to stay free of contamination.

  • Cathy Richards

    Re: canning lids. In my mom’s day canning was done with glass lids and rubber rings. However the rubber was replaced with plastic. And then the glass lids replaced by the current ones.

    Nonethless, the lid rarely touches the food during processing if proper technique is used, nor during storage if you keep your jars upright.

    Last year I even “canned” some water so I have about 5 Litres on hand to get me through a little bit of an emergency situation — I just would add 1 x 1L jar to increase the water level in my canner during each of my last batches (when there were too few jars of carrots or whatever to fill the canner). I couldn’t fathom keeping bottled water on hand, given that it would have sat in the containers for months if not years.

  • I’m with @fanisse. This is a scientific argument that has been played out in the popular press, and the results are predictably confusing and overwrought. However, if you go read the link @fanisse provides, you’ll see that there are some heavy hitters with no vested interest in the plastics industry (and in fact, have published concerns about other chemicals) who are saying that BPA is not worth the worry.

    I blogged about the same exchange of papers and letters a little while ago, but I think the link @fanisse provides does a better job summarizing the events.

    I can’t help but wonder how long it will take before someone comes out with a study about how harmful the plastics used to replace BPA are.

    @Cathy Richards- infants can easily be breastfed if their moms don’t work. My baby is breastfed, but I work, so she gets bottles of pumped milk during the day. So even breastfeeding moms care about the BPA thing.

  • Cathy Richards

    @Cloud — yes I guess that’s the joy of being Canadian where most non-self-employed families enjoy 12 months of parental leave. By 1 year of age if a toddler is still breastfeeding usually morning, early and late evening breastfeeds are all they need, with water the rest of the day if they’re thirsty.

    Awesome that you are pumping. That takes dedication especially when your baby is young and entirely dependent on milk feeds. I’m totally impressed!

    PS. My info on rat pups was from Environment Canada’s report.

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  • there are plenty of options for bpa-free home and commercial canning.

    glass baby bottles work just fine, too.

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  • Ciara

    I’ve wondered about an environmental contaminant being involved in the rise of a new autoimmune disease that causes encephalitis. It’s a horrifying disease and the number of very young children being diagnosed over the past few years is what is concerning.

    The reports are are coming out of modern, westernized countries, so a dietary contaminant or even an additive might be a possibility. There are certainly others. But so far I have not even seen a theory from a researcher or doctor regarding what could be causing this. BPA crossed my mind, though I don’t know if the timing would be right.

  • Em

    I have switched to using tomatoes in those cartons (like juice box cartons). I wonder if they, too, are somehow toxic? Probably so. It sometimes seems as if the whole food supply is suspect.

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  • I had my DNA tested through Acumen labs in London, England and they found BPA stuck to my DNA. I was not surprised having used Nalgene bottles for many years. It appears that in order to avoid phlates I have poised myself with BPA. The question is will I be able to ever get it out of my system. I am working on it

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