The FDA has publicly supported removing toxic, endocrine-disrupting BPA from the lining of cans since 2010, but a newly released report entitled Buyer Beware: Toxic BPA & Regrettable Substitutes in the Lining of Canned Food, disclosed by groups including the Breast Cancer Fund and Clean Action Production found that 67% of sampled canned goods still contained BPA-based epoxy. The collaboration tested 192 cans of a variety of products from small and large private companies as well as retailers including dollar stores, national grocery stores, and big box stores. More discouraging news: even when the canned goods were BPA-free, many of them used a substitute coating type like PVC-based polymer or polystyrene-acrylic, both of which contain ingredients that are known or suspected carcinogens. While some brands such as Campbell’s and Nestle have issued claims that they are moving away from BPA use by 2017, others (such as General Mills, Del Monte, and J.M. Smucker Company) have not indicated that this goal has a specific timeline on their horizon at all. The report clearly shows that removing BPA from canned food and finding a safe substitute have not been high on the priority list of most companies and retailers. Read on for the results — you’ll want to keep them in mind the next time you go shopping basically anywhere.
Canned food was collected in 19 different states and one Canadian province for the report. Here’s a breakdown of some of the alarming findings:
- 100% of Campbell’s cans (15 out of 15) were found to contain BPA-based epoxy despite the company’s claims that it is transitioning away from using the toxic substance.
- 71% of Del Monte (10 out 14) and 50% of General Mills (6 out of 12) tested positive for BPA.
- 100% of Target private-label cans (5 out of 5) and 88% of Walmart cans (7 out of 8) contained BPA.
- 100% of limited samplings from companies both large (McCormick and Nestle) and smaller (Goya Foods and Ocean Spray Cranberries, for example) tested positive for BPA. These limited samplings only tested two or three of the brands’ cans.
- 62% of Kroger’s private-label canned goods (13 out of 21) and 50% of Albertson’s (8 out of 16) contained BPA, representing the prevalence among the two largest dedicated grocery retailers in the United States.
- 100% of private-label cans for dollar store retailer tomatoes and beans tested positive for BPA, an especially alarming finding since dollar stores and discount retailers are often the go-to food resource in low-income communities that have been shown to have higher BPA exposure already and fewer fresh food options.
- Products such as canned milks (including coconut) and broth and gravy were the most likely to contain BPA-based epoxy. In contrast, canned corn and peas were less likely to contain BPA and most often used a plant-based substitute called oleoresin.
For slightly more positive news, consider that Amy’s Kitchen, Annie’s Organic, Hain Celestial Group, and Con Agra no longer use BPA-based epoxy in any of their canned foods and that they disclose what BPA alternatives they are using. No BPA epoxy was found in any of the cans tested from these brands or from Eden Foods. Eden Foods is well on its way to phasing out BPA as well. They report that it has been eliminated in 95% of its canned foods, although the company is “actively looking for alternatives.”
However, the majority of retailers have more work to do. Although Albertsons, Safeway, Kroger, Publix, Wegmans, and Whole Foods have adopted policies to reduce BPA use in their private-label canned food, none have a policy to completely eliminate the toxin from all canned food products, nor have they made available what alternative linings they are assessing or using. On Monday, Campbell’s Soup Co. said that it would completely switch to cans without BPA in their linings by the middle of 2017 and said it was on track to have 75% of its soups in BPA-free cans by December. The company reported that it will use cans with linings made from polyester or acrylic materials, which may also be associated with cancer, endocrine disruption, and reproductive, respiratory toxicity. Campbell’s is, however, one of four companies out of 13 surveyed to disclose the name of their can and can-lining suppliers (Annie’s Homegrown, ConAgra Foods, and Eden Foods were the others). All others declared this information “proprietary.”
The report urges consumers to vote with their pocketbook, avoid canned foods when possible, actively ask retailers and companies for more transparency and progress towards eliminating BPA from canned foods, request that companies complete the GreenScreen Challenge to find safe alternatives for can linings, and to support federal policy initiatives such as the “Ban Poison Additives Act.”