Behind the Brand Curtain
BPA in Canned Food: What does BPA-free mean?
EWG’s survey yielded only fragmentary information on the types of substitute can linings being adopted by food companies. Only a handful of companies or brands disclose the alternatives they are using, and the descriptions are vague. Here is a sample:
- Farmer’s Market Foods, Inc. (Farmer’s Market): Confirms information it provided to Madison, WI – based, Willy Street Co-op on September 24, 2012, that “it's a polymer liner that complies with FDA regulations.”
- Sprouts Farmers Market, Inc. (Sprouts Farmers Market): “Vinyls, polyester, and oleoresins” either in combination or alone. August 7, 2014
- Lakeside Foods – Private brand supplier for Natural Value, Inc. (Natural Value): Either “heavy single coat vinyl; single coat white modified vinyl; grey modified polyester base coat, clear modified polyester top coat; grey vinyl base coat, grey vinyl top coat; single coat modified polyester; or vinyl organosol liquid” depending on the can type.
- Annie’s, Inc. (Annie’s Homegrown): “Modified polyester material.” March 27, 2014
- Bumble Bee Foods, LLC (Beach Cliff, Bumble Bee, Wild Selections): “Blend of vinyl and polyester resins.” January 14, 2014
- Chicken of the Sea International (Ace of Diamonds, Chicken of the Sea, Genova): “Organisol polyester vinyl lining.” August 22, 2014
- The Hain Celestial Group, Inc. (pertaining to Westbrae Natural): “It is a type of food grade epoxy – it’s the simplest earth friendly coating available.”
- Edward & Sons Trading Co. (Native Forest): “It will vary from product to product, but most use a epoxy-based lacquer or a titanium dioxide-based lining.” February 5, 2014
The standout exception is Eden Foods, which is the most transparent with regard to its non-corn-based oleoresin liners: “Eden Organic Beans are packed in steel cans coated with a baked-on oleoresinous c-enamel that does not contain the endocrine disrupter chemical, bisphenol-A (BPA). Oleoresin is a natural mixture of an oil and a resin extracted from various plants, such as pine or balsam fir.” (Eden Foods 2014).
Given its expense, it’s not surprising that oleoresin hasn’t caught on more widely for low-acid foods. According to one figure, the use of oleoresin11 could increase the manufacturing cost by 21-34 percent per can (Eden Foods 2014).
As industry scrambles to find alternatives to BPA, concern has grown that without appropriate oversight, food companies will substitute structurally similar chemicals, or new chemicals with toxicity profiles equal to or worse than BPA. The FDA reviews applications for new chemicals in food packaging but has very little information about them. And since it has limited authority to regulate chemicals that were in use before 2000, BPA-free cans may be made from chemicals that have not been properly studied for long-term health effects.
In addition to BPA, other bisphenol-type chemicals have been detected in foods, including canned food. These include bisphenol A diglycidyl ether (BADGE), bisphenol F, bisphenol F diglycidyl ether (BFDGE) and bisphenol B. The most comprehensive study of American food was conducted by Chunyang Liao and Kurunthachalam Kannan of SUNY Albany in 2013 (Kannan and Liao 2013). The researchers tested 267 U.S. food samples packaged in metal cans, glass jars and cardboard and found BPA and related chemicals in many of them. Canned foods had the highest concentrations of bisphenols, with concentrations generally between 1 and 100 parts per billion. Food sold in non-metal packaging generally had less than 1 part per billion of any bisphenol. BPA was the most common chemical detected in all food types, but bisphenol F and bisphenol S were detected in many food samples, generally in lower concentrations.
An earlier study showed that BPS was as disruptive to hormone signaling as BPA and as the human estrogen estradiol. The research suggested that exposure could lead to altered cell growth and death (Viñas and Watson 2013). These findings contradicted oft-heard assertions that BPA and BPS were “weak estrogens.”
Due to their chemical structures many bisphenol chemicals have been presumed to have some hormone-disrupting potential. (Rosenmai and Pedersen 2014). A study by University of Calgary scientists found that in utero exposure to BPS (detectable in 81 percent of the U.S. population) might lead to neurodevelopmental disorders later in life. The researchers found that doses of BPS in zebrafish embryos that were a thousandth of the accepted human daily exposure led to a 240 percent increase in abnormal growth of brain cells. The authors suggested that male hormones might be particularly disturbed by this abnormal cell development (Kinch 2015).
Last year, the EPA published a report indicating that many replacement chemicals would likely have a similar risk profile to BPA (EPA 2014). That federal law does not require chemicals to be thoroughly tested (or tested at all) before they go on the market is a serious flaw in the nation’s chemical safety laws.
 Oleoresin may not be a suitable alternative for use with some high acid food types.