The Plastic Poisons in Our Canned Foods

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A coalition of public health and environmental groups, collectively known as the National Workgroup for Safe Markets, has produced a report on the amounts of Bisphenol A (BPA) in canned foods: "No Silver Lining: An Investigation into Bisphenol A in Canned Foods" (PDF).

What did it find? BPA in 92 percent of the foods sampled. Most canned foods are lined with BPA plastic, and it leaches into the foods.

I've discussed concerns about the health effects of BPA in previous posts. Here is an update on attempts to get rid of it.

    • Senator Dianne Feinstein proposed an amendment to the endlessly pending food safety bill to ban BPA.

    • The Grocery Manufacturers of America (GMA) and the Chamber of Commerce have threatened to oppose the food safety bill if it bans BPA. How's that for a good example of food politics in action.

    • The canning industry knows it must replace BPA and is looking for alternatives.

    • The French will ban BPA in baby bottles, since infants are most at risk.

To put all this in context, take a look at Jerome Groopman's New Yorker article, "The Plastic Panic: How Worried Should We Be About Everyday Chemicals?" He isn't exactly sure, but he points out how difficult it is to test the health effects of any one of the many chemicals in our environment—flame retardants and plastics among them—and how far regulation lags behind in dealing with this problem. He concludes:

How do we go forward? Flame retardants surely serve a purpose, just as BPA and phthalates have made for better and stronger plastics. Still, while the evidence of these chemicals' health consequences may be far from conclusive, safer alternatives need to be sought. More important, policymakers must create a better system for making decisions about when to ban these types of substances, and must invest in the research that will inform those decisions. There's no guarantee that we'll always be right, but protecting those at the greatest risk shouldn't be deferred.

Given the evidence brought forth to date on BPA, I'd call this an understatement.

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Marion Nestle is a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University. She is the author of Food Politics, Safe Food, What to Eat, and Pet Food Politics. More

Nestle also holds appointments as Professor of Sociology at NYU and Visiting Professor of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell. She is the author of three prize-winning books: Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health (revised edition, 2007), Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety (2003), and What to Eat (2006). Her most recent book is Feed Your Pet Right: The Authoritative Guide to Feeding Your Dog and Cat. She writes the Food Matters column for The San Francisco Chronicle and blogs almost daily at Food Politics.

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