Who's winning the war over BPA?

By Jenni Spinner contact

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Bpa, Packaging

Despite public debate, most consumers have no opinion on BPA in food packaging.
Despite public debate, most consumers have no opinion on BPA in food packaging.
Packaging organizations are on the march to spread the word about BPA's safety, but is it enough to stem the tide of anti-chemical sentiment?

The American Chemistry Council (ACC) has borne the pro-BPA banner proudly, touting scads evidence of BPA's fitness for use in food-contact packaging. Its latest effort is the relaunch of a website designed to win skeptical consumers over on BPA's fitness in food packaging.

FactsAboutBPA.org is a pretty slick site that sells John Q. Public on BPA's uses and benefits. It fortifies the case with striking statistics; for example, you would have to down more than 1,300 lbs. of food and beverages in polycarbonate packaging each day to exceed the Tolerable Daily Intake amount set by the European Food Safety Authority.

However, the battle is raging on another front: scientific laboratories. Each month, more studies are launched looking into BPA's potential harmful effects--just last week researchers at the University of Illinois announced a five-year study into how the chemical might impact developing children.

On a recent trip to a grocery store, I conducted my own study, albeit not a very scientific one: I stood in an aisle and asked shoppers if they knew what BPA was.

The vast majority didn't; the one who did remarked, "It causes cancer, or something​." I noticed rolling around her cart were cans of soup from a company that uses BPA in its linings. The chemical is on her radar, but as a vague threat and not an imminent danger.

The public clearly hasn't made up its mind. Consumers actively shy away from BPA in some packaging (reusable water bottles and baby-food packaging, for example), but not so in others (the Canned Food Allance recently reported most US households use food in the packaging to make meals several times weekly​).

Some big brands have shown interest in exploring BPA-free alternatives. Campbell Co., for example, still dominates most American store shelves with its red-and-white, BPA-lined soup cans, but it has launched a broad range of products in aseptic cartons and flexible pouches.

Arguably, agencies such as the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) aren't being totally helpful. The FDA makes declarations like "Studies employing standardized toxicity tests have thus far supported the safety of current low levels of human exposure to BPA," then turns around and endorses efforts to phase BPA out of infant formula cans and other packaging.

Among packaging companies, at least, the sentiment seems to be that BPA is going to be around for a while, but it's time to look at alternatives.

Packaging giant Ardagh Group and ConAgra Foods this year displayed a vote of confidence in the staying power of traditional food cans; they inked a deal on a new canned-food facility in Virginia, with a top capacity of 4.5 million cans a day.

Still, the company is looking ahead. Robert Fell, head of R&D for metal packaging in Europe for Ardagh Group, told attendees at a packaging industry event in Paris that while many reports and agencies are declaring BPA safe, public opinion might render the declaration of safety irrelevant.

"The regulatory bodies say the current BPA coatings are not a health risk, but we now have the situation that we will have to have appropriate country warnings on brand packs​," he said. "It is sad that we are having to replace coatings that have proved themselves with many years of excellent service​."

In other words, the clock for BPA appears to be ticking.

Related topics: Food Safety & Quality

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