Consumer Reports’ latest tests of canned foods, including soups, juice, tuna, and green beans, have found that almost all of the 19 name-brand foods tested contain measurable levels of Bisphenol A (BPA). The new findings show that BPA can be found in a diverse assortment of canned foods including those labeled “organic,” and even in some foods packaged in “BPA-free” cans. Consumer Reports’ tests of a few comparable products in alternative types of packaging showed lower levels of BPA in most, but not all cases. The results are reported in the December 2009 issue.
“The findings are noteworthy because they indicate the extent of potential exposure,” said Dr. Urvashi Rangan, Director of Technical Policy, at Consumers Union, nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports. “Children eating multiple servings per day of canned foods with BPA levels comparable to the ones we found in some tested products could get a dose of BPA near levels that have caused adverse effects in several animal studies. The lack of any safety margin between the levels that cause harm in animals and those that people could potentially ingest from canned foods has been inadequately addressed by the FDA to date.”
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is soon expected to announce the findings of its most recent reassessment of the safety of BPA. Consumers Union hopes it will remedy some of the deficiencies of its previous analysis. BPA has been linked to a wide array of health effects including reproductive abnormalities, heightened risk of breast and prostate cancers, diabetes, and heart disease.
Consumers Union has previously called on manufacturers and government agencies to act to eliminate the use of BPA in all materials that come in contact with food and beverages. Given Consumer Reports’ new finding, Consumers Union sent a letter to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg reiterating its request that the agency act this year to ban the use of BPA in food- and beverage-contact materials.
BPA, which has been used for years in clear plastic bottles and food-can liners, has been restricted in Canada and some U.S. states and municipalities because of potential health effects. But, there are no federal restrictions on BPA in food packaging. Federal guidelines currently put the daily upper limit of safe exposure at 50 micrograms of BPA per kilogram of body weight. But that level is based on experiments done in the 1980s rather than hundreds of more recent animal and laboratory studies indicating that serious health risks could result from much lower doses of BPA. Several animal studies show adverse effects, such as abnormal reproductive development, at exposures of 2.4 micrograms of BPA per kilogram of body weight per day, a dose that could be reached from a person eating one or a few servings daily or an adult daily diet that includes multiple servings of canned foods containing BPA levels comparable to some of the foods Consumer Reports tested.
In keeping with established practices that ensure an adequate margin of safety for human exposure, Consumer Reports’ food-safety scientists recommend limiting daily exposure to BPA to one-thousandth of that level, or 0.0024 micrograms per kilogram of body weight, significantly lower than FDA’s current safety limit.
An FDA special scientific advisory panel reported in late 2008 that the agency’s basis for setting safety standards to protect consumers was inadequate and should be reevaluated. A congressional subcommittee determined in 2009 that the agency relied too heavily on studies sponsored by the American Plastics Council. The FDA, now under the leadership of Dr. Margaret Hamburg, is expected to announce soon its reassessment of BPA safety. Bills are currently pending in Congress that would ban the use of BPA in all food and beverage containers. Industry has been waging a fight against new regulations.
Almost a decade ago, Consumers Union was one of the first consumer groups to test BPA in baby bottles, and to warn consumers about its potential dangers. Consumers Union calls on manufacturers and government agencies to act to eliminate the use of BPA in all materials that come into contact with food. Consumers who are concerned might be able to reduce, though not necessarily eliminate, their dietary exposure to BPA by taking the following steps:
• Choose fresh food whenever possible.
• Consider alternatives to canned food, beverages, juices, and infant formula.
• Use glass containers when heating food in microwave ovens.