Monday, March 19, 2012

Cutting out the crap: the dreaded BPA.. in food

I'd seen the stickers on kids' lunch boxes and drink bottles which read "Does not contain BPA" but not really understood what BPA was or why it shouldn't be in plastics and why we need to avoid it.  I'd clearly missed the whole BPA news item boat. Bad mother.

However, recently I read an article from one of my food-related email alerts, and in the article it mentioned that BPA, a type of plastic, had been linked not only to cancer but heart disease in otherwise healthy people.

Danger, Will Robinson.  What was this BPA and was it in my house? My food? My body?

Luckily, when I tweeted about the article, the very helpful and well-informed Lesh from @mindfulfoodie sent me a link to an article she'd written on her blog about BPA, where it was found and how to best eliminate it from your environment as much as possible.

Read her great article here.

After I read it, I must confess I felt pretty ignorant and also a little alarmed.  However, as Lesh says, no point in getting worried: get informed and take action.

I guess the most enlightening aspect of the article was finding out that (with a few, small notable exceptions) all canned foods are in cans lined with BPA!  I can't understand why we'd be concerned about buying lunch boxes and drink bottles without BPA but not be concerned about our cans of food being lined with BPA?!?!? Food that can sit on a shelf for 12-18 months?

So what is BPA?

BPA, or Bisphenol A is a colourless solid that is used to make polycarbonate plastics.

The reason why BPA is so bad for humans is because it is a known endocrine disruptor.  The endocrine system in humans and animals contains glands that secrete hormones into the bloodstream to regulate the body.  Endocrine disruptors either mimic hormones or disrupt their function in the body and even in very low levels, can have detrimental effects on humans.  

These disruptions can cause cancerous tumours, birth defects and other developmental disorders, in particular, learning disabilities, severe ADHD and autism, cognitive and brain development problems, deformations of the body (including limbs), early puberty and fertility problems. Any system in the body controlled by hormones can be derailed by hormone disruptors.

BPA itself exerts a weak, yet detectable chemical that mimics estrogen in the body.

In 2008 health concerns were raised about BPA being used in food containers and many manufacturers began voluntarily removing it from production.  It is banned as a toxic substance in some countries, but yet it still lines much of our canned food.

It's in all my canned food?

Well, yes, most of it, especially the large commercial brands.  I recently emailed Heinz to ask if all of its brands' (Heinz, Watties, Weight Watchers, Greenseas, Cottees, Golden Circle, Original Juice Co) canned foods were lined with BPA.  I received a fairly irritating response, saying that they needed more information, giving me a 1800 number to call and quoting a reference number.  I wasn't impressed, because surely they have this information that they could email to me.  Either all their cans were lined with BPA, or some weren't and they could let me know which ones were not.  Pretty simple I thought.

I also emailed Edgell.  Their response was far more transparent and helpful. They confirmed that their canned foods were lined with BPA but that:
"actions have been underway for some time to find alternatives that will enable BPA to be phased out from our canned food products."

Edgell also referred me to Food Standards Australia statement on BPA which states that the current tolerant daily intake (TDI) level of BPA "represents no significant risk to human health."

Much more helpful.  But not the answer I wanted.

More recently, studies have been calling into question the TDI of BPA, suggesting that even at very low levels, it may be responsible for disease.

A new study published on 14 March 2012 (5 days ago), conducted over 3 years by 12 scientists, has stated that:

"There truly are no safe doses for chemicals that act like hormones, because the endocrine system is designed to act at very low levels.”
The report cites an interesting comparison:
"The breast cancer drug tamoxifen provides an excellent example for how high-dose testing cannot be used to predict the effects of low doses. At low doses, it stimulates breast cancer growth. At higher ones, it inhibits it."
Read the full study here or a summary here.

We don't eat a lot of canned food in our house, but I realised we rely on certain items quite heavily. I immediately went straight to the pantry and removed all the canned products. Canned corn kernels, tuna, beetroot, legumes (oh the legumes!), coconut milk, baby corn, etc. Goneski. I had been buying passata in glass bottles for a while as I'd read something a while ago about canned tomatoes but couldn't remember what the issue was (!?!). However it should be noted that the lids of glass bottles and jars are also lined with BPA.

Lesh had mentioned on Twitter that Spiral Foods don't line their cans of tinned tomatoes with BPA.  I found Spiral Foods in my local health food store and saw their branded coconut cream also. I bought a few cans of the coconut cream and when I returned home, couldn't find any information on their website about BPA and coconut cream (and assumed the worst).  By email, Spiral Organics confirmed neither their coconut milk nor coconut cream were in tins lined with BPA.  

A big HIP HIP HOORAH for Spiral Foods!!!!  I am now (of course) a massive advocate for Spiral Foods and will be buying all my canned tomatoes and coconut cream from Spiral. 

Ok, so which brands DON'T use BPA?

I have limited information about brands who do not use BPA, however here are a couple, courtesy of Treehugger, via Mindful Foodie:
  • Spiral Foods: tinned whole tomatoes, diced tomatoes, coconut milk & coconut cream;
  • Eden Organic (distributed by Spiral Foods and available in good health food stores) - legumes, beans etc
  • Vital Choice - tinned, sustainable (wild caught) seafood: salmon & sardines only 
There was an issue with minute, detectable amounts of BPA in Vital Choice their tuna. I contacted Vital Choice regarding the findings.  Vital Choice responded to me quickly and thoroughly, stating that as a result of the study, much testing had been done to find the source of the BPA contamination.  The source was not found however it has made Vital Choice more vigilant and all its suppliers are required to certify that they are BPA free.  Read about the study which found detectable amounts, possibly from the can lids here. And read an article in the Washington Post about it here; and Vital Choice's response here.

Personally, I'll be buying supporting Vital Choice and buying their seafood.

If you know of any other companies who sell canned foods which aren't lined with BPA I'd love to hear from you.  And let's give them a massive plug so that their efforts can be rewarded.

More about endocrine disruptors

Unfortunately, there are many more endocrine disruptors in our environment apart from BPA.  Other notable endocrine disruptors include:
  • parabens (found in shampoos, moisturisers, shaving gels, personal lubricants, makeup, toothpaste and food additives) which have been found in some breast cancer tumors;
  • Phthalates (found in tubing, vinyl flooring, glues, inks, pesticides, detergents, plastic bags, food packaging, children’s toys, shower curtains, soaps, shampoos, perfumes, hair spray and nail polish);
  • Pesticides and herbicides; and
  • Heavy metals (to name a few).
A helpful list of common endocrine disruptors is listed here.

Boy, am I glad I have decided to cut the crap out of my life. Little did I know why, it just seemed to make sense.  However now I really know I'm on the right track.

With new research emerging on a regular basis about the harmful effects of endocrine disruptors on humans (and indeed other animals), I am going to do my utmost to eliminate them from my environment as much as possible.  Unfortunately their effects can be long term and I hope and pray that my prior exposure to them won't harm myself or my children in future, however I know now that knowledge is power, and I will do everything in my power to cut that crap right outta my life!!


  1. Hello, Heinz Australia here. We’re sorry that you were disappointed in our response. We find that many of our consumers appreciate the opportunity to discuss their concerns, hence the invitation to call. For reference, we have removed BPA from baby food cans (there is a statement on our website about this – For other canned products, we continue to monitor scientific developments and packaging innovation opportunities in this area. Feel free to call us on 1800 037 058 at any time if you would like to provide any further feedback.

  2. Hi Heinz,

    Thank you for clarifying. Email responses are better for a lot of people since they can read in their own time and deal with it in their own time.... But I do appreciate the response.

    Given the new research emerging about BPA and calls by scientists to eliminate it altogether from food packaging, it would be good if companies like Heinz and Edgell went on the "front foot" to find alternatives to BPA lined cans rather than wait for regulators and Govt Health Departments to make recommendations.


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  4. Thanks Riki Jorden. As consumers we collectively have so much power, which resulted in the BPA being voluntarily being removed by manufacturers from baby bottles and lunch boxes. Imagine what would happen if the same restlessness occurred with canned food?

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  7. Thank you for this info! Great to hear of a few brands doing the right thing. Here's hoping some others will follow soon! Can you tell me the names of the stores that stock Spiral Foods, Eden Organic & Vital Choice brands please?


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