When it comes to making tidal-wave changes in the healthy food industry, the perfect storm of scientific evidence mixed with pressure from health-savvy consumers has a track record of being an effective, if painstakingly slow, method of achieving progress.
Yet with BPA (bisphenol A), an endocrine-disrupting synthetic estrogen found in many plastics and cans—and linked to illnesses like breast cancer and developmental problems—change isn’t coming as quickly as you might hope.
In fact, a new report from the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that despite evidence that the chemical leaches from packaging into food, BPA-laced cans are still lurking (everywhere) on grocery store shelves. And you thought choosing what to make for dinner was already hard enough.
So how many brands still use BPA in their packaging?
The study surveyed over 250 major brands, and found that a grand total of just 31 passed the BPA test with flying colors, meaning that there were no traces of BPA-epoxy in any of their can linings. Some of the brands have it in only some of their offerings. Seventy-eight used it in all products. Another 100 were deemed “uncertain” because they didn’t provide enough information to make a sound conclusion. So good luck to shoppers?!
“There’s this Wild Wild West of canned food” says Samara Geller, an EWG database analyst, adding that there are currently no federal regulations requiring BPA disclosure on labels. As of 2009, the FDA deemed BPA safe, but has advised the food industry to transition away from its use in everything from baby bottles to canned goods while it completes more research.
To further that initiative, the EWG has launched a consumer petition to put pressure on the offenders, which include Green Giant, Del Monte, and Progresso. In other words, brands sold absolutely everywhere. “Without support from the FDA, consumers are really the ones driving this change in regulation,” Geller says.
Why don’t all companies just stop using BPA?
Lack of government attention isn’t the only reason these companies are slow to change, Geller adds. There’s a Goldilocks-like problem of finding BPA-free packaging that works for a lot of canned goods: BPA-free cans are prohibitively expensive for small companies, options like glass are being tested for efficacy and whether they alter the quality or taste of foods, and in general, Geller points out, no one knows if alternatives are 100 percent safe.
Even trusted supermarkets like Whole Foods have a policy against accepting new brands that use the hormone, but are currently working with their existing brands on their transition to new packaging. That means that until they’re BPA-free (like Amy’s), they may still be carried there.
For now, Geller suggests that consumers do their homework, using tools like the EWG Food Scores database to check up on their go-to brands. And hopefully continued requests from consumers will empower companies to make changes. A can of black beans sans dangerous chemicals isn’t too much to ask for, right? —Amy Marturana
For more information and to check out what brands landed on the EWG naughty and nice list, visit www.ewg.org
(Photo: Digital Vision/Thinkstock)