The tussle over bisphenol A, or BPA, has long pitted consumers and advocacy groups against companies and trade associations. Companies like Coca-Cola claim that small amounts of BPA are necessary to extend the shelf life of its products. Organizations including the Breast Cancer Fund say any benefits are outweighed by BPA’s health risks: it mimics the hormone estrogen. In children, researchers claim that BPA is linked to the onset of early puberty in girls and attention deficit disorder. But even if all canned goods were free of BPA, avoiding the chemical would be a tall order: paper receipts often contain the chemical, too.
Meanwhile the Food and Drug Administration has not banned BPA, claiming that the scientific evidence is inconclusive. That could change by March 31, however. Some states are mulling bans on BPA, or have prohibited them from products like baby bottles and sippy cups.
For companies like Campbell’s Soup Company, the BPA controversy is problematic because high levels of BPA have been found in products marketed to children. Classic goodies like Spaghettios and branded options like its Disney Princess Cool Shapes soups were among the canned entrees that contained the chemical.
After months of pressure from a bevy of advocacy groups, Campbell’s recently announced that it will phase out the use of BPA in its can linings. The decision is in part due to the work of the Breast Cancer Fund, which pushed supporters to send more than 70,000 letters to Campbell’s by its Cans not Cancer campaign.
Campbell’s shift started last month, when its Chief Financial Officer Craig Owens announced that the company would start eliminating BPA from its packaging. The cost to the company should be marginal, according to Owens, and alternatives to BPA have begun to find their way into the company’s supply chain. There is one caveat to this announcement, however: a timeline for this phase-out has not been announced nor has the company stated what the BPA alternatives are.
But for Campbell’s competitors, this 140 year old decision sends a strong signal throughout the marketplace. The FDA may not have banned BPA and the scientific evidence does not convince everyone, but more and more customers have made up their minds. In this age of transparency, consumers want assurances that their foods are safe, not explanations or excuses. Watch for more companies to join the BPA phase-out bandwagon in the coming months. And for Campbell’s, which has already led on water stewardship issues, a clear phase out of BPA can prove it is setting another high standard.
Photo courtesy Wiki Commons.