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Why is BPA still in our canned foods?

Although bisphenol-A (BPA) has been removed from most water bottles, the chemical is just as dangerous in canned foods. A new study from the Harvard School of Public Health may finally prompt consumers to call for change.

A new study from the Harvard School of Public Health may have finally raised the issue of bisphenol-A (BPA) in canned foods above the radar for consumers—me included. Volunteers who ate canned Progresso vegetable soup five days in a row had an amazing 1200 percent spike in levels of the chemical in their urine.

BPA is an endocrine-disrupting chemical used in metal food- and beverage-can liners. (It was also common in polycarbonate water bottles, but in the face of consumer concern over worrying research, that industry has scrambled to become “BPA-free.”)

Studies have linked BPA exposure with diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease in humans; in animal studies, it’s been shown to interfere with reproductive development. According to Dr. Frederick S. vom Saal, a professor in biological science at the University of Missouri at Columbia, and the foremost expert on BPA toxicity, 100 percent of industry-sponsored studies show no toxicity from BPA, but 100 percent of government-sponsored studies do show toxic effects.

More companies should remove BPA

Eden Foods is the only manufacturer I know of that has made a significant effort to remove BPA from its products. In 1999, after Eden Foods' President Michael Potter learned about initial BPA research, he switched most of their canned foods to BPA-free cans, which cost 14 percent more than regular cans.

Although Eden’s tomato-containing foods are still in conventional cans (there’s no other FDA-approved lining for highly acidic foods), this year, the company launched Organic Tomatoes in Amber Glass, which protects flavor and nutrients from UV damage.

This kind of leadership in the market, and admirable concern for public health, is too rare. Why aren’t other organic and mainstream manufacturers taking this health threat seriously? Especially when it comes to young children with developing bodies, we can’t afford to ignore this kind of high-level exposure.

Cooking from scratch and using a slow cooker to cook beans and other foods is obviously a great way to avoid this exposure—but come on, who among us hasn’t reached for that can of chicken noodle soup or beans to make minestrone?

Study reference: “Canned Soup Consumption and Urinary Bisphenol A: A Randomized Crossover Trial,” Jenny L. Carwile, Xiaoyun Ye, Xiaoliu Zhou, Anotonia M. Calafat, Karin B. Michels, JAMA, online Nov. 22, 2011; in Nov. 23/30 print issue.

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