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BPA In Our Food and In Our Bodies

by: Jill Richardson

Sun Nov 08, 2009 at 13:00:43 PM PST

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BPA's getting bigger and bigger headlines these days. First it was the Consumers Union report showing that "almost all of the 19 name-brand foods tested contain measurable levels of Bisphenol A (BPA)." Then a number of groups (including the Breast Cancer Fund, Clean Water Action, Clean New York, Center for Health, Environment & Justice, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Oregon Toxics Alliance) wrote the FDA calling on them to do something about BPA. And now, Nicholas Kristof took on BPA in the New York Times.  
Jill Richardson :: BPA In Our Food and In Our Bodies
Kristof says:

Your body is probably home to a chemical called bisphenol A, or BPA. It's a synthetic estrogen that United States factories now use in everything from plastics to epoxies - to the tune of six pounds per American per year. That's a lot of estrogen.

More than 92 percent of Americans have BPA in their urine, and scientists have linked it - though not conclusively - to everything from breast cancer to obesity, from attention deficit disorder to genital abnormalities in boys and girls alike.

Now it turns out it's in our food.

That's what I call cutting to the chase. If the issue seemed obscure and hard-to-understand before, it doesn't now.

There have been a few bills on BPA introduced in Congress, like the Ban Poisonous Additives (BPA) Act. Some people hoped that it could be added as an amendment to the food safety bill. Unfortunately, if I recall correctly, the House food safety bill that passed instead called on the government to study the issue of BPA. That's a stall tactic, intended to guarantee that nothing will happen for a while. Now we have a reason not to ban BPA just yet, because they are busy studying it. Let's not act until the study is completed.

And, sadly, there are actually companies lobbying the government to keep BPA legal. Here's who's been lobbying about BPA (both for and against):

Companies/Industry Groups
*Note: The amounts spent are for total lobbying, not just lobbying on BPA.
Abbott Laboratories - $90,000 (2009 Q1-Q3)
Alcoa - $160,000 (2009 Q1-Q3)
American Beverage Association - $8,670,000 (2009 Q1-Q3)
American Chemistry Council - $5,040,000 (2009 Q1-Q3)
Anheuser-Busch - $220,000 (2009 Q1-Q3)
Bayer - $1,843,672 (2009 Q1)
Bristol-Myers Squibb - $2,656,256 (2009 Q1-Q3)
Coca-Cola - $100,000 (2009 Q2)
Conagra Foods - $180,000 (2009 Q1-Q3)
Del Monte Foods - $48,000 (2009 Q1 & Q3)
Dow Chemical - $4,360,000 (2009 Q1-Q3)
Gerber Products Company (Nestle Infant Nutrition) - $80,000 (2009 Q1-Q3)
Grocery Manufacturers Association - $720,000 (2009 Q1)
Nestle USA - $1,711,183 (2009 Q1-Q3)
North American Metal Packaging Alliance Inc
Outdoor Industry Association - $180,000 (2009 Q1 & Q2)
Owens-Illinois, Inc (a glass bottle manufacturer) - $784,000 (2009 Q1-Q3)
PepsiCo - $2,895,500 (2009 Q1 & Q2)
Proctor & Gamble - $3,619,397 (2009 Q1-Q3)
SABIC Innovative Plastics US LLC - $452,188 (2009 Q1-Q3)

Non-Profits/Advocacy Groups
America's Promise - The Alliance for Youth - $50,000 (2009 Q1)
Breast Cancer Fund - $70,000 (2009 Q2 & Q3)
Consumers Union - $180,000 (2009 Q2 & Q3)
First Focus Campaign for Children - $50,000 (2009 Q2 & Q3)
Friends of the Earth - $28,781 (2009 Q1)
U.S. Public Interest Research Group - $255,000 (2009 Q1-Q3)

In my own life, I am very frustrated about BPA. When headlines on it first came to my attention, I bought equipment for home canning. Living in San Diego, I didn't think I needed to can my own food because we have fresh produce year round. But I like tomato sauce, and that comes in cans. Cans lined with BPA. Even BPA-free Eden Foods still uses it in canned tomatoes because of the acidity. So I bought a canner. 40 lbs of tomatoes and many messy hours in the kitchen later, I've got quite a stash of home made (and delicious) tomato sauce. (UPDATE: From the comments... apparently lids for home canning also have BPA in them. Darn it!)

Shortly after deciding I was done with canned tomatoes bought from the store, I visited a few friends out east. All of them were quite food conscious. Yet, they still used canned tomatoes in their cooking. I hate correcting others because it seems rude and know-it-all-ish, but in this case, it seemed necessary. I brought up the BPA issue. They were pissed off. Not at me but at the situation. I don't blame them. Canning your own tomatoes is a pain in the ass. I would know.

First of all, you have to wait for the damn things to get into season. If you aren't growing tomatoes yourself, then you have to go to the market each week and wait until the price goes down. In San Diego, that means waiting until we get really hot weather. At the next market, you'll be able to find a big bunch of "sauce tomatoes" (tomatoes that are mushy and 2 seconds away from going moldy). When you find your moment, you spring into action. Buy up 45 lbs or so of tomatoes at about $1/lb if you can get that kind of deal. You need lots of cash (unless your farmer takes checks) and lots of muscles. I was sore for days after carrying my tomatoes home from the market. And now, you are tied up for the rest of the day, because you just committed yourself to hours in the kitchen making sauce. Hope you didn't have other plans that day!

It took me all summer to get my act together to make my own tomato sauce. It was quite worth it though. Next time around, my-boyfriend-the-chef wants to make his own salsa too. I wouldn't mind canning diced tomatoes or tomato halves to add to soups as well. After all that work, we've only got 9 quarts or so of sauce. That's not enough if you intend for it to last a year for a family of four.

In addition to the tomato issue, there's my SIGG bottle. I bought it years ago in Switzerland (before it was cool in the US) after hearing that Nalgene water bottles had problems. Turns out, my SIGG bottle has BPA in its lining. New SIGG bottles do not use BPA, but I'm ticked off enough that I won't be buying another one. I'm switching over to Kleen Kanteen and other stainless steel brands instead.

Other Recent BPA News:
Tests Reveal Poison in Nearly All Campbell's Soups
15 Quick Facts about BPA

UPDATE: In case their was any question what these industry groups were saying in their lobbying, they just put out a response (h/t Marion Nestle):

The use of bisphenol A (BPA) in can linings is both safe and vital for food protection, a host of industry bodies and companies have said in rejecting the conclusions of a report calling for a ban on the chemical.

The North American Metal Packaging Alliance (NAMPA), the American Chemistry Council (ACC), as well as food giants such as Del Monte, Campbell and General Mills have dismissed a study by the US-based Consumer Union that claimed potentially hazardous levels of BPA were leaching into foods from the epoxy linings of cans.

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my State Rep. Larry Curry (4.00 / 5)
was at my house for a meeting the other night. He has a bill that would prohibit using BPA in baby bottles. He told me the bill is stalled.

I can't fight nature anymore. Deer and now foxes. Its too costly to keep them out. So I will only grow what they don't like and buy tomatoes and can at the end of the summer.FYI  there is ONE company I think its called Pomi that sells tomatoes in boxes.

buying in glass jars (4.00 / 4)
is also a good idea.

"I can understand someone from Iowa promoting corn and soy, but we are not feeding the world, we are feeding animals and soft drink companies." - Jim Goodman

[ Parent ]
Pomi tomatoes are good (4.00 / 3)
a Chef that I took a class from recommended them. Since we lost tomatoes this year, I will be using them as my back up. There are one or 2 other brands in boxes, but I'm going with what I know for now.

[ Parent ]
even home canning carries no guarantees (4.00 / 5)
treehugger and utne reader have had articles on the BPA in the major brands of canning lids:

this year and last year i froze a lot of raw (peeled, cored, seeded) tomatoes in plastic freezer bags, so who knows what leaches from them; it may not be any better than the BPA from cans.  why aren't there any canned tomato brands available without BPA? at this point there's certainly demand to meet nearly any price point.  

Yeah, pretty depressing to discover it's in the lids (4.00 / 5)
but then if that's our choice, at least the glass jars are safer vs the cans.

I tried the Pomi brand and thought they were a decent substitute for my own canned. Wouldn't freezing in canning jars be ok as there wouldn't be any heat involved? I couldn't freeze as much this year as I'm not sure when I'm moving and I don't want to lose that much food . . .  {sigh}
But now that I'm thinking about it, if I'm only using a few jars a week of home canned items and the rest is fresh, it's got to really lower the amount in my body compared to using more commercially processed items, right?

[ Parent ]
I'd think that freezing in glass jars (4.00 / 3)
would be ok if you allowed enough room for expansion.

Also, the BPA in the canning lids wouldn't be as much of a problem as it would be in the cans as there should be head room in the jars and the food shouldn't actually be in contact with the lid coating like it would be in a metal can. Maybe you'd still get some, but not as much?

Normal people scare me. But not as much as I scare them.....

[ Parent ]
Quote from Utne Reader (4.00 / 3)
The magazine asks an endocrine-disruptor expert about the potential health hazards. "If the lid doesn't contact the food, it's not a problem," says Frederick vom Saal, a biological sciences professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia. But that's unlikely to be the case, so he recommends using a BPA-free product. Organic Gardening suggests Weck brand canning jars, which have glass lids.

I learned to leave at least a half inch of headroom to avoid boilovers, so I think my home canned stuff is safe. Given how much else BPA is in my environment, I think canning lids are a minor problem.  

[ Parent ]
oh gross (4.00 / 4)
that's bad news. I hadn't even thought about that!!!!

"I can understand someone from Iowa promoting corn and soy, but we are not feeding the world, we are feeding animals and soft drink companies." - Jim Goodman

[ Parent ]
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