Will Your Canned Soup Carry a Warning Label?
It’s not a death sentence but rather, a clear warning. California isn’t playing games anymore. It’s calling the canned food chemical bisphenol A, or BPA, out for what it is: toxic. The state announced its intent to put BPA on its Prop. 65 list, a collection of compounds that by state law must be labeled due to their known carcinogenic and/or reproductive damage properties.
The announcement won’t outright ban the use of BPA, but its addition to this notoriously dangerous list of compounds is significant: BPA will be joining the likes of bad actors like asbestos, benzene, mercury, and lead on the Prop. 65 list. “The acknowledgement of this body of science is incredibly important, and will likely lead to protective actions,” says BPA expert Laura Vandenberg, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow of biology at the Center for Developmental and Regenerative Biology at Tufts University in Massachusetts. ”
The decision to add BPA to the Prop. 65 list isn’t based on a hot-off-the-presses new study, although plenty suggest that BPA is bad news. Instead, regulators took data from a 2008 National Toxicology Program report that noted some concerns related to BPA exposures, including the effect the chemical might have on developing fetuses, from damage to the male reproductive tract to changes in brain development and the genesis of behavioral problems.
In recent years, independent scientists have piled on even more studies suggesting BPA’s range of damage is robust. Long known as a chemical that tinkers with vital hormonal processes that regulate everyday bodily functions, scientists discovered in recent years that low doses of BPA appear to also trigger abnormal heart rhythms, suggesting a possible association between BPA and heart attacks.
Because BPA interferes with your body’s ability to produce and regulate estrogen, testosterone, insulin, and other hormones in a normal way, the chemical is implicated in diseases like breast and prostate cancers, along with type 2 diabetes and obesity. A 2013 study published in the journal Kidney International found BPA promotes oxidative stress that can damage tissue, opening up the door for heart and kidney problems.
Despite BPA’s soon-to-be home on the Prop. 65 list, experts say that BPA-containing soup and other canned foods likely won’t carry a warning label. That’s because California’s proposed maximum allowable dose of BPA is set rather high, exceeding levels found in most food containers, according Sarah Janssen, MD, PhD, senior health scientist at Natural Resources Defense Council.
So, will California’s tougher stance on BPA create a ripple of change through the rest of the country? “California has often been at the front of public health decision-making in the U.S., particularly when it comes to chemical safety,” Vandenberg says. “Oftentimes, we have seen the rest of the country follow along once California takes a stance. It is certainly plausible that the addition of BPA to Prop. 65 will set off a chain reaction, at least in some other regions of the country.”
BPA is experiencing the smackdown in other areas, too: Maine recently banned BPA in infant formula and baby food packaging, and 11 other states have taken measures to keep BPA out of baby bottles, sippy cups, and/or infant formula. But until BPA is taken out of adult food and drink packaging, developing fetuses will continue to be exposed to the damaging chemical.
Here’s how to get BPA out of your diet:
Find something better than plastic. BPA hides out in polycarbonate (some #7) plastics, so avoid plastic water bottles and food containers whenever possible. When you do use plastic, don’t let it overheat. High temperatures from microwaves and dishwashers can accelerate leaching. Even leaving a plastic water bottle in a hot car could be trouble. Use food-grade stainless steel, ceramic, or glass instead of plastic whenever possible.
Avoid canned foods. Most canned-food liners contain BPA, with varying levels of the chemical leaching into your food. Eden Foods is one company that uses a vegetable-based can coating instead of BPA or its chemical cousins.
Don’t always trust “BPA free.” ”BPA-free” packaging may make you feel better, but a recent study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives found bisphenol S, or BPS, a common replacement, behaves similar to hormone-disrupting BPA. “I think sometimes there is too much focus on this one chemical. It’s not that environmental health scientists have a grudge against BPA,” explains Vandenberg. “But thinking that replacements are automatically safer than BPA is simply wrong, especially when some of these replacements are also endocrine disruptors.”
Should that prevent the addition of BPA to Prop. 65? “Certainly not,” Vandenberg adds. “But should it cause public health officials to take an additional look at the chemicals used as BPA alternatives? I definitely think so.”
Write off unwanted receipts. Many thermal-printed receipts come with a costly health risk: a BPA veneer. The chemical coating readily transfers from the receipts and onto—and into—your skin, so avoid taking receipts for trivial purchases that you’re likely to just throw away anyway.