“I have a bad feeling about this.” Luke Skywalker’s warning in the movie blockbuster Star Wars could equally be applied to consumers’ concerns about Bisphenol A (BPA).
Unless European and US manufacturers follow the example of their Japanese counterparts and implement measures to reduce or replace BPA, they could find that its their consumers who ‘strike back’.
Proponents of BPA, the resin found in the linings of canned food and baby bottles, maintain its safety. The plastic and food packaging industries argue that the compound is cost effective and durable and that there are no effective alternatives. But is the evidence against BPA beginning to stack up?
Two recent reports underline consumer anxiety about the chemical.
Earlier this month, scientists from the US National Toxicology Programme said that effects on reproductive development from BPA in packaging cannot be ruled out and a study released last week by UK scientists linked the chemical to diabetes and heart disease.
That is in addition to the 100 other studies that have found the chemical to be an endocrine disrupter or damaging to behavioural and neural development.
The US and European regulators say the correct safety thresholds are in place. However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last week admitted that more research is needed to clear up the lingering questions.
But whether concerns about BPA turn out to be justified, shoppers are already buying BPA-free baby bottles and the large retailers are phasing out products containing the chemical.
Canada is now taking a precautionary approach and has decided to take steps to limit human exposure to BPA, starting with a ban on baby bottles that use it.
And an expert writing in the Washington Post recently recommended that consumers eat more fresh or frozen foods to avoid the BPA found in canned food linings and use polycarbonate plastic bottles for cold or room-temperature fluids only.
These concerns deserve a considered response. The Darth Vader approach, dismissing the problem with the words: “I find your lack of faith disturbing” will not serve the industry well – or its customers.
If customers don’t want this chemical in their bottles and cans, an alternative packaging component will have to be found.
Hasn’t the food industry already experienced the power of consumer resistance to an ingredient and been forced to act?
Processors, prompted by consumer concern, have been seeking natural alternatives to synthetic colours since the public outcry that followed the Southampton Study, which implicated additives in hyperactivity in children.
Likewise, food and drink manufacturers in Europe and the US would better serve their customers by erring on the side of safety.
The should try to develop, in tandem with the chemical companies, an alternative to BPA for can linings or, at the very least, reduce dramatically the amount of the resin used in the packaging.
Japanese food and drink companies have already done so.
Due to consumer concern about the toxic effects of BPA, Japanese manufacturers voluntarily reduced the use of BPA in packaging between 1998 and 2003.
They replaced EXR coating with PET film lamination on the inner surface of cans or used an EXR paint that had much less BPA migration into food instead.
And following these reduction and replacement moves, a team of assessors claim that virtually no BPA is found in canned foods and drinks in Japan now.
Meanwhile, Eden, a food manufacturer in Michigan, said that it uses an enamel lining made from the oil and resin extracted from plants instead of BPA on the inner surface of its cans of peas.
The company concedes this lining is more expensive to produce than BPA but, surely, consumers would be willing to absorb a slightly higher price tag for packaging they can trust.
There must be a way to improve safety standards. Could the Jedi Knight’s lightsabre teach a valuable lesson? Designed for defence, it protected the user by offering swift and decisive intervention. Shouldn’t food companies act now, with similar speed and resolution, to end once and for all concerns about Bisphenol A?
Jane Byrne is editor of FoodProductionDaily.com. She has worked in print and online media for several years in Ireland, France and Switzerland. If you would like to comment on this article, please email jane.byrne'at'decisionnews.com