The international controversy over the plastics additive bisphenol-A (BPA) has gone through several recent twists and turns. More...


The international controversy over the plastics additive bisphenol-A (BPA) has gone through several recent twists and turns, including the development of a new alternative and a declaration by a Canadian government body that the substance is not a significant risk.

Bisphenol-A is an additive that adds to the plasticity of polymers. It’s used both for rigid containers and in the interior coatings of metal cans. Upwards of 90% of American food and beverage cans are estimated to use BPA. It is controversial because of studies linking BPA consumption to health risks, including cancer and reproductive-system disorders.

Recent developments in the BPA controversy include:

• Health Canada declared that the use of BPA in canned food does not pose a health risk, after a survey of levels of the chemical in 78 canned products. The survey revealed levels of the chemical in all the products, ranging from 1.1 to 534 parts per billion (ppb). It concluded that these levels were “not a human health concern,” but added that the results were “exploratory and should not be used to indicate the distribution of BPA in canned food products.” The European Union limit is 660 ppb.

• The Australian Food and Grocery Council issued a statement asserting that BPA carries no major health risks. Responding to new research on BPA levels by a local consumer group, the council’s deputy director, Geoffrey Annison, said, “There’s no scientific evidence internationally that has shown any dangers to humans from BPA in canned products or bottles.”

• Heinz Australia announced plans earlier this summer to phase out BPA in all of its baby food packaging. The company issued a statement noting that UK and European authorities have stated that minute BPA levels are safe, but that it was implementing the phase-out due to consumer concerns.

• A new alternative for BPA in can linings is being touted by a Florida supplier. Design Analysis Inc. of Jacksonville, Fla., supplies PolyKoat, which it touts as a coating alternative that is not only BPA-free, but is produced with less energy consumption than traditional coatings.

• The North American Metal Packaging Alliance has stated that while it believes BPA coatings pose no significant health risk, it is actively pursing BPA-free alternatives to meet consumer demand. There is no alternative available that can currently be used for all foods and beverages, the Alliance’s director, John Rost, says in a statement on the organization’s website.

In the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration’s official position jibes with Canada’s. But U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has inserted a BPA ban into the food safety bill now being considered by Congress. Despite criticism from members of her own party, Feinstein is not backing down.

It’s always tough when governments have to decide whether to let fly with the regulatory meat ax in the face of inconclusive science. With the serious consequences that a BPA ban would involve, it’s probably best for government to step aside and let consumers make the call, as interpreted by can suppliers’ customers.