This post originally appeared on The EcoPlum Blog and is reprinted with permission.
Campbell Soup Company, a leader in the canned food industry with over $2.4 billion in annual sales, revealed last week that it promises to phase out BPA-based epoxy across its entire North American portfolio by mid-2017. This comes in response to consumer demand and pressure from the BPA Buyer Beware report released by the Breast Cancer Fund, Campaign for Healthier Solutions, Clean Production Action, Ecology Center and Mind the Store Campaign. The study revealed that 100% (15 out of 15) of tested Campbell’s cans, contain BPA-based epoxy in the inner linings.
These findings may seem shocking since the company had first announced in 2012 that it would begin to phase out BPA from its cans. But here we are in 2016, and that hasn’t rung true yet. Campbell’s new phase-out plan includes ‘safer’ alternatives to BPA, such as acrylic or polyester materials. But the question now is: Will this transition actually take place according to the timeline, and are these alternatives actually safer than BPA? Well, perhaps. But according to the BPA Buyer Beware report, the research on such substitutes is limited because of the lack of FDA review and approval of packaging additives and the highly protected trade secrets in this product sector.
Read more on the BPA Buyer Beware report here.
The Original Problem
The big problem is that many cans contain BPA, short for Bisphenol A, in their interior linings in order to prevent corrosion in the can, leakage of other metals into the food and bacterial contamination. This is especially true for acidic foods, such as tomatoes. BPA, however, can leak into the food during the canning process. And when absorbed by the body, BPA acts as a hormone disruptor that can increase the risk for prostate and breast cancer, early puberty, infertility, type-2 diabetes, asthma, obesity, and behavior changes including attention deficit disorder. Well, that doesn’t sound good. So, why is this toxic chemical still in our food system? Good question.
The New Plan
Back in 2012, Campbell’s didn’t have concrete plans as to when it would phase out BPA and what would replace the chemical. The company has now (or again) promised to have all of the BPA in its canned products discontinued by the middle of 2017. The company states that it has begun using acrylic or polyester materials in place of BPA and that it will continue to do so across its entire North American portfolio. Campbell’s reasoning behind the delay in its ‘BPA-free’ products is that it took years to research and find safer alternatives to BPA for its 600+ recipes, including acidic foods that contain tomatoes. This new action was influenced by consumer demand for more transparency, a conversation with the Breast Cancer Fund and a needed response to the BPA Buyer Beware report.
“We must earn consumer trust every day by being open about what’s in our food, and that includes the packaging we use,” said the Campbell Team on their Web site. “We have disclosed which of our products use BPA and our high-level plans to transition away from it on whatsinmyfood.com, but recognize we could go further.”
Consumers can expect to see significant changes by December 2016, when 75% of Campbell’s canned foods on store shelves should have non-BPA linings, according to the company.
The Ongoing Problem
Campbell’s claims its main concern and top priority has been food safety (contamination and spoilage), which the company identifies as a major challenge in its quest to find safe alternatives to BPA. But overall wellness and healthy living can be just as important, if not more important to some people, especially moms who buy Campbell’s products for their children. BPA actually used to be considered “safe” when it was first discovered for its ‘positive properties’ and it wasn’t until later research that its potential side effects came into the limelight. The same could be said for these new BPA substitutes, whose safety is debatable and mostly unknown.
In the BPA Buyer Beware report, five main coating types were found among the 192 cans tested: acrylic resins, BPA-based epoxy, oleoresin, polyester resins, and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) copolymers. But “there is no way to determine the specific chemicals used or how they are produced,” according to the report.
What is known so far is this:
- PVC is made from vinyl chloride, a known carcinogen
- Polystyrene is a plastic made from styrene, which is considered a possible human carcinogen
- All plastics contain some level of residual or unreacted molecules, which also may leak from the can linings into food
- There is no reliable data about the safety of the other coating types
So, although BPA may be on its way out, it doesn’t mean that what’s ending up in the cans is any better or safer. But as consumers, we can continue to demand transparency on all chemicals used in the linings, more solid research on the safety of lining alternatives and government restrictions on the use of compounds that are not proven to be safe. As consumers, we deserve to know this information so we can make informed decisions for ourselves and our families.
Another action step we can take today is try to avoid canned products altogether until safer packaging solutions become a reality. Many ‘canned’ foods now come in paper cartons or glass jars—soups, beans, tomatoes, etc. Two companies that currently offer these options are Jovial and Bionaturae.
Phasing out BPA is a small step to a much larger and needed change. So let’s hope that Campbell’s and other major players, such as Green Giant and Del Monte, will deliver on their promises and offer consumers foods that come in safe containers—foods we can feel at ease buying for and serving our families. Bring on the non-toxic linings!