Sunday, May 08, 2011

Coca-Cola Continues To Use Cans Lined With BPA Amid Growing Concerns

By Theodora Filis

Some of the world's largest food companies removed the chemical Bisphenol A (also known as BPA) from packaging, amid growing concerns it causes a wide range of human illnesses including heart disease and breast cancer.

Nestlé, the world's largest food manufacturer, said it will stop putting BPA into US products by 2013. Heinz is removing BPA from baby food in the UK. General Mills has already removed BPA from its Muir Glen tomato range, and Campbell Soups says it has done "hundreds" of tests exploring alternatives. Coca-Cola, declined to disclose a timetable for its withdrawal, saying that BPA is safe.

BPA, an estrogen-mimicking chemical found in food and drink that toughens the packaging of many tins, glass jars and plastic bottles, and the casings of electronics gadgets such as TVs, mobile phones and laptop computers. Some scientists claim BPA is an endocrine disruptor that affects hormones and could be causing breast and prostate cancer, heart disease, brain retardation, impotence and infertility.

In a survey for a new report, Seeking Safer Packaging, the US investment fund Green Century Capital Management surveyed 26 food companies for their policy on BPA. Half said they were committed to ending use of the harmful substance.

Emily Stone, of Green Century Capital Management, said: "Companies are actually moving faster than regulators in phasing out BPA from food and beverage packaging."

The US says it has "some concern" about the chemical's potential effects on the brain, on behavior, and on the prostate glands of fetuses, babies and young children, but the European Food Safety Agency recently stated that the substance does pose a risk to the public.

A recent study concluding that BPA is safe was discovered to have been written by researchers with strong ties to the chemical industry.

"I think they just feel they would be too vulnerable if they admit there might be a problem," says Michael Passoff, Senior Strategist at As You Sow. According to Passoff, companies that are paying attention to potential BPA hazards include Heinz, General Mills, and Hains Celestial -- all are launching BPA-free product lines.

Subsidiaries of some UK firms using BPA may not take such strong action in Europe. While saying it was phasing out BPA in baby food, Nestlé told The Independent: "As a global food and marketer, Nestlé takes into consideration local needs, cultural differences and consumer preferences as well as attitudes concerning the use of certain materials. This may well result in different solutions in various regions of the world..."

Coca-Cola may be making a bad financial decision even if it genuinely believes that it is correct and BPA is safe. "As investors, that's our concern--that Coke is not prepared for market change, that Coke is just ignoring growing scientific concern, regulatory action, and consumer backlash," says Passoff.

More than 20 states in the US have introduced legislation to restrict BPA use, Canada has listed it as a toxic chemical and several European countries refused to accept the European Food Safety Agency's latest position, released last September.

Scientists are divided. While many endocrinologists, experts in hormones, believe low doses of BPA can harm humans. General toxicologists say evidence from large industry-funded studies suggests this is not the case

BPA can be found in:

Foods Packaged In Tin Cans
BPA resin sprayed on the inside of tins prevents metal from contaminating food. The Independent found this year that BPA was present in 18 of the UK's best-selling tins, including Heinz baked beans, Princes sardines, right, and Napolina tomatoes.

Canned Drinks
Some carbonated drinks, including Coca-Cola, are lined with a BPA resin. Pepsi has not said if its cans are lined with BPA.

Glass Jars
Some glass jars have BPA in the lid. Campaigners want firms such as Nestlé and Heinz to remove BPA from their baby and toddler food ranges because of its feared impact on babies.

BPA is in the casings of electronics products including CDs, and DVDs, phones, TVs, laptops, personal computers, printers, cameras, shavers, hairdryers, irons, food mixers, microwaves and kettles.

Plastic bottles
BPA is found in polycarbonate bottles designed to carry water or baby milk. Several manufacturers have phased out BPA.
Sports equipment
Sports helmets, ski goggles, binocular cases, and golf and tennis equipment contain the chemical.

Cash Receipts
BPA is used to make ink visible on thermal cash receipts. Concern arises with shoppers handling the paper and then touching their mouths or food before washing their hands.

Medical equipment
BPA is found in the casings of dialysis machines, dentists' operating lamps and blood sample pouches. It also toughens the lenses of eye glasses.

Companies Going BPA Free:

"Heinz remains committed to moving to alternatives. Our plastic Heinz Beanz Snap Pots and Heinz Beanz Fridge Pack contain no BPA. All Heinz plastic baby food and juice containers, as well as packaging for our snacks and cereals, are BPA-free.”

Our baby food cans also contain no BPA and we are already at an advanced stage of phasing out the minute amounts of BPA used in the lids of jarred baby foods to ensure seal integrity, even though the BPA is coated and does not come into direct contact with the food at any time.

Heinz continues to advance research into alternative coatings in response to consumer opinion but safety remains our first priority before making any changes."

Still Using BPA?

"The consensus repeatedly stated among regulatory agencies is that current levels of exposure to BPA through food and beverage packaging do not pose a health risk to the general population. BPA is found in the linings of our aluminum cans. Our bottled water and plastic soft drink containers are made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic, which does not contain BPA.

While we are confident about the safety of our aluminum cans, we are always looking for ways to improve our packaging. We are working closely with several suppliers who are seeking alternatives. Any new material ... also would have to meet our safety, quality and functional requirements."

A recent Coca-Cola shareholder resolution to remove BPA from can linings was approved by 26% (one in four) shareholders. As You Sow, a nonprofit shareholder advocacy group, claims that a 10% vote is usually enough to spur a company to action.

Coke's response? The Vancouver Sun reports:

Muhtar Kent, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of The Coca-Cola Company, told shareholders that the science just isn't there to justify a shift away from BPA, saying if the company had any doubt "about the safety of our packaging, we would not continue to use it. It's that simple."

Kent said that this doesn't mean the company isn't exploring alternatives, but emphasized the beverage giant isn't in the packaging business and takes its direction from regulatory agencies.

Green Century Capital Management:
Suggested Reading:
The 411 On Plastic Water Bottles… and Cash Receipts?