Empty assurances of “BPA-free”

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There's corn in the can -- but what's in the can lining?“BPA-free” means safe, not linked to breast cancer, not estrogenic, in the clear, worry-free…right?

Hardly.

There are two major problems with the BPA-free=safe assumption; both are matters of transparency.

First, while you’ll easily find polycarbonate (hard, clear, #7) plastic products—like sports water bottles and baby bottles—labeled BPA-free, you are unlikely to find such clear guidance on canned foods. Up until very recently, virtually all food cans were lined with an epoxy resin made with BPA, a toxic chemical linked to breast cancer and other diseases that is nonetheless an FDA-approved food contact substance.

Although many canned food makers are starting to move away from BPA, to our knowledge only Eden Foods is actually printing “BPA-free” on its canned beans. So while you may have heard that Muir Glen tomatoes, Trader Joe’s canned fish or some Campbell’s soups are packaged in BPA-free cans, it’s pretty hard to know if the can in the store (or the one that’s been in your cupboard for six months) is, in fact, BPA-free.

Manufacturers could label their BPA-free products or provide detailed, public information about which brands/foods/lot numbers are BPA-free, but most don’t.

Second, and arguably more detrimental, is the detail that the chemicals being used to replace BPA are not necessarily safe. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC; yes, the stuff in plastic pipes), for example, is an FDA-approved alternative for can linings, yet vinyl chloride is a known carcinogen. BPS is another lining option—an option plucked from the same family of chemicals as BPA—but is relatively untested so we don’t know if it’s safe or not; yet BPS is already being found in people.

So while we cheer, celebrate and congratulate canned food manufacturers that have announced plans to replace BPA, our Cans Not Cancer campaign still has some pointed questions:

When will companies be completing the change?
What are they using instead of BPA?
And are the replacements safe?

Campbell Soup Company’s recent announcement that it would be moving away from BPA is a great example. An iconic, market-leading canned food company has made a major commitment to replace BPA (great!), but it won’t tell us which alternative it’s using, its implementation timeline or which products are already sporting the alternative (cream of clarity soup, anyone?).

Here’s the thing: we know replacing BPA is complicated for manufacturers. But if we’re buying their products and feeding them to our families, we deserve to know what’s in those cans, just like we deserve to see the ingredient list or how many milligrams of sodium are in a serving.

The Breast Cancer Fund is committed to getting this information from manufacturers, and soon we’ll be calling on you again to help. For now, read and share our tips for avoiding BPA in canned food and join our Cans Not Cancer campaign.

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