BPA in Canned Foods Less Common, but Still There

By Kathleen Doheny
WebMD Health News

Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD

June 3, 2015 -- At least a third of canned foods have the chemical BPA in their linings, according to a new report from the Environmental Working Group (EWG).

The report found that BPA, or bisphenol A, is less commonly used to line the inside of metal food cans today. Research has linked the chemical to several health problems.

"Definitely the trend is moving away from BPA,'' says Renee Sharp, director of research at the EWG. "But there is a long way to go."

The BPA Scorecard

The EWG looked at 252 brands made by 119 companies between January and August 2014. They asked if the company used BPA-based coatings to line the metal food cans. The lining protects the food from touching the metal.

Sharp says federal regulations don't require manufacturers to identify BPA-free cans, so consumers have no way of knowing which cans are free of the chemical.

The FDA says the chemical is safe in food packaging and containers. A spokeswoman for the North American Metal Packaging Alliance says she is "disappointed" by the report.

The EWG survey findings:

  • 12% of the brands, or 31, used BPA-free cans for all of their canned products.
  • 14%, or 34 brands, used BPA-free cans for one or more of their canned products.
  • 31%, or 78, used BPA for all their canned products.
  • 43% of brands supplied incomplete or ambiguous answers to survey questions or did not respond.

BPA-free brands include Amy's, Earth's Best Organic, Seneca, Sprouts Farmers Market, Tyson, and Health Valley. For the full list, click here.

The survey was funded largely by Grace Communications Foundation, an organization focused on increasing public awareness of food and other health issues, and other donors, Sharp says.

BPA: EWG's View

BPA mimics sex hormones and thyroid hormones. And it has been linked in some research to problems with brain and nervous system development, obesity, and reproductive health problems. Exposure during pregnancy is viewed by some as particularly hazardous.

Much of the research has been done in lab and animal studies, EWG researchers acknowledge. But some studies have linked BPA with behavior problems in children, as well as obesity and heart disease.

Companies can turn to BPA substitutes to line the cans, the EWG says.

BPA: View of FDA, Others

The FDA says more research is underway into BPA and any potential risks.

Justin Teeguarden, PhD, a toxicologist and senior scientist at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, says his testing shows the chemical is safe.

Teeguarden's current research is funded by the CDC's National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the American Chemistry Council, whose members make BPA.

"There is a difference between a hazard and a risk," he says, and it's driven by exposure. Standing on the brink of a cliff, for instance, is much more dangerous than standing a mile away, yet in both instances the hazard is present.

As for BPA alternatives to line cans, he says, ''the possible alternatives have not been toxicology tested the way BPA has." Experts are beginning to do that research, he says.

The Environmental Protection Agency notes that food packaging using BPA accounts for less than 5% of the BPA used in the U.S.

Industry Weighs In

The EWG report will ''scare consumers away from a technology that has protected food for well over 35 years without fail," says Kathleen Roberts, a spokesperson for the North American Metal Packaging Alliance, responding to the report. She noted that the food packaging, including BPA, helps prevent food-borne illness.

"We are also disappointed the EWG did not even attempt to explain that everything that contacts food will migrate trace levels of that material into the food -- whether it be glass, plastic or some new BPA-substitute chemistry."

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SOURCES: Renee Sharp, director of research, Environmental Working Group. Environmental Working Group: "BPA in Canned Food." FDA: "Bisphenol A (BPA): Use in Food Contact Application." Kathleen M. Roberts, spokeswoman, North American Metal Packaging Alliance. Justin Teeguarden, PhD, toxicologist and senior scientist, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

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