Chemical Threat Persists in Food and Beverage Packaging

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Seattle, WA – Fourteen of the largest public packaged food and beverage companies still use the toxic chemical bisphenol A (BPA) in their packaging despite studies linking the synthetic sex hormone to developmental problems, heart disease and diabetes, according to a new report by investors Green Century Capital Management (“Green Century”) and As You Sow. 

BPA is used in can linings and some hard clear plastic containers. The chemical is known to leak from packaging into food and beverages. In March, rising consumer concern about BPA led the six largest baby bottle manufacturers to announce that they would phase out BPA from all bottles sold in the U.S. 

“Given the number of studies linking BPA to serious diseases and developmental disorders, its continued use poses unnecessary risks for companies in the packaged food industry,” states Amy Galland, who helped write the report as Research Director of As You Sow.

For the report, Seeking Safer Packaging, investors asked 20 publicly-traded companies what actions they are taking to respond to concerns regarding BPA. Green Century, an environmentally responsible investment advisory firm and manager of the Green Century Funds, initiated outreach to companies in November 2008. Of the fourteen companies that responded, investors found that all but four had failed to develop safer alternatives, and only one company had begun using a substitute. 

The Washington release of the report was conducted by Green Century Funds in partnership with the Washington Public Interest Research Group (WashPIRG). WashPIRG released the report with a presentation of products, ranging from baby bottles to canned foods, some from companies that have begun phasing out BPA and others from companies that still use the substance. WashPIRG is working to pass legislation at the state and federal level that would ban the use of BPA in baby bottles, sports water bottles, and other containers and begin phasing out the use of BPA in food packaging.

“Consumers have the right to know that the products they’re buying are safe,” stated WashPIRG Consumer Advocate Blair Anundson. “Most importantly, parents should be able to walk into any store and know that the baby bottle, canned food or infant formula they buy for their child won’t contain a chemical that has been linked to cancer, developmental and reproductive problems, and other ailments by well over one hundred government and independent studies.”

Seeking Safer Packaging awarded top scores to Hain Celestial, Heinz, and Nestlé.  These companies were leaders because they research and test alternatives to BPA and because they plan to phase out the chemical in some products. According to the report, Heinz is the only respondent already using a substitute to BPA in some of its can linings.  

The other companies contacted were Campbell Soup, Coca-Cola, ConAgra, Chiquita, Dean Foods, Del Monte, General Mills, Hershey, Hormel, J.M. Smucker, Kellogg, Kraft, McCormick, PepsiCo, Sara Lee, Sysco, and Unilever. 

According to Green Century and As You Sow, companies that continue to use BPA in food and beverage packaging face competitive, reputational, and potential market exclusion risks.

“Green Century is very concerned about the lack of urgency with which the packaged food industry is addressing BPA,” states Erin Gray, Head of Marketing and Strategic Analysis for Green Century. “Alternatives to BPA exist for many products. We believe companies should implement all feasible alternatives and increase investments into substitute can linings for all products, including highly-acidic foods.”

Anundson noted that action by the state and federal government is necessary to insure safety across the board and to act as an incentive for companies that haven’t taken steps to discontinue the use of BPA.

“Many companies have made the responsible move by switching to safer alternatives. This should be an easy transition and companies that act now can get ahead of the curve,” concluded Anundson. “Ultimately the best way to ensure safety is to require companies to make the switch to safer alternatives.”

The Seattle release was held at Eat Local, a socially responsible grocery store that uses locally grown, organic produce and makes pre made meals packaged in glass, cardboard and other more environmental benign products. In using these packaging materials, the business avoids BPA and provides its customers with a safe product. Eat Local is one of several examples of Washington businesses that have actively sought to keep BPA out of their products.