Researchers looking into the amounts of a chemical called bisphenol A (BPA) found in canned foods specifically marketed towards children has found that some of the major players in the industry have higher levels of the chemical than the government recommendations.
Bisphenol A is potentially hazardous chemical, which with repeated exposure has been linked to conditions such as prostrate cancer, breast cancer, female infertility and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Campbell’s soups, specially marketed for children and called ‘Toy Story’ soup and ‘Disney Princess’ soup were found to have the highest levels of bisphenol A when tested by independent laboratories, according to the report. It was also noted that the chemical was not recorded on any food ingredient label either. The report also says that every can tested had some bisphenol A present in its ingredients.
The research checked 12 different cans of soup and children’s meals and found that every can had some bisphenol A present. The lowest amount was 10 ppb (parts per billion) rising up to 148 ppb. The average was 49 ppb. The Environmental Protection Agency has a recommended limit of no more than 50 ppb daily.
A spokesperson for Campbell's insists that the regulatory bodies state that the presence of BPA in such small quantities in canned foods is not a risk to health. However Connie Engel, PhD, is the science education coordinator at the Breast Cancer Fund, which funded and carried out the study, and she says, "One serving might be a concern, but a combination of repeated and re-exposure to BPA from cans marketed to kids is a bigger concern. The combination of these foods with other foods like canned fruits, juices, or vegetables would add up to levels of BPA exposure associated with breast cancer, prostate cancer, infertility in girls, and ADHD [attention deficit hyperactivity disorder]".
BPA – The Issues
BPA is a chemical commonly used in the food packaging industry. It is found in hard plastics but the area of concern in this report is that it is found inside metal cans. The BPA lining is used to prevent contamination of the food by any bacteria that may be in the can.
The BPA can slowly seep into the food within the can and the amount of the chemical that enters the foodstuff can vary due to many factors. Some of the common reasons affecting the contamination include how fatty, acidic or salty the food is, or how long the food has been in the can or if the can has been subjected to heat or UV light.
Because we know that BPA can affect the body’s endocrine system by imitating the estrogen hormone we are aware of the problems it can cause. Earlier research indicates that exposure to BPA may have an association to breast cancer and prostrate cancer. Other issues include the possibility of a link to obesity, neurological conditions, thyroid problems and reproductive irregularities.
Historically the U.S. FDA (Food and Drugs Administration) took the view that low levels of exposure to BPA was safe, this was their view in 2008. However they have since updated their position in the light of various new studies and now accept that the health risks associated with BPA are unclear at the present time.
BPA Levels in Canned Food
The research was very simple in concept. Researchers acquired two cans of the same product and six different products, all based on children’s soups and ready meals in cans and sent them to independent laboratories for testing and analysis.
The results, from those with the highest levels of BPA thru to the lowest were:
- Disney Princess Cool Shapes Shaped Pasta with Chicken in Chicken Broth: levels in the range of 80-148 ppb
- Toy Story Fun Shapes, Shaped Pasta with Chicken in Chicken Broth: levels in the range of 71-90 ppb
- Earth's Best Organic Elmo Noodlemania Soup, USDA Organic: levels in the range of 34-42 ppb
- Annie's Homegrown Cheesy Ravioli, USDA Organic: levels in the range of 27-34 ppb
- Chef Boyardee Whole Grain Pasta, Mini ABC's & 123's with Meatballs: levels in the range of 19-21 ppb
- Campbell's product, SpaghettiOs with Meatballs, levels in the range of 10-16 ppb.
Every product tested had a presence of BPA and within each sample of the identical product the levels were noted to vary by up to 68 ppb. Campbell’s had the highest and the lowest levels in its products. The highest being between 80 and 148 ppb in its Disney Princess Cool Shapes Shaped Pasta with Chicken in Chicken Broth. It also had the lowest levels recorded in its SpaghettiOs with Meatballs, with only 10 to 16 ppb of BPA found.
The findings pretty well match up to earlier research into BPA levels in this type of food. A review conducted in March 2011 found PBA levels averaged 69 ppb in soups with meals having a slightly lower figure of 36 ppb.
Anthony Sanzio is the Campbell Soup Company spokesman and he reassures everyone that, “the quality and safety of their products is their top priority”. He goes on to assure people that the Campbell Soup Company does adhere to government guidelines and if the chemical is not approved for use then they would not use it. He tries to ensure that everything remains in perspective by saying, "We are talking about parts per billion here. These are very small, minute amounts that regulatory bodies have said don't pose a threat to human health”.
Campbell’s are not the only company using this chemical, it is commonplace throughout the industry because it has government approval for that use, asserts Sanzio before going on to say, "We are confident in what the science tells us, but that does not mean that we don't understand the concerns that consumers have expressed".
BPA – The Jury is Out!
BPA is found naturally in the world all around us. The point of concern is, ‘how much exposure is dangerous?’. It is now becoming more common for individuals and bodies to be more circumspect about what is a dangerous level of BPA. We know that it is present in our tinned food but we don’t know at what level it becomes an issue and starts to produce negative health problems in individuals.
Some recent research has indicated that perhaps not enough is known about BPA to believe that the present exposure level limit as defined by the Environmental Protection Agency is safe. Some professionals believe that exposure at lower levels can have negative effects on the human body.
However industry groups representing the tinned food producers question whether these studies would withstand serious academic rigor when analyzed. They highlight many shortcomings in the methods of testing used in these studies.
John Rost, PhD, chairman of the North American Metal Packaging Alliance thinks that BPA is not dangerous and it is only the media that is publicizing the story. He believes that the benefits of BPA are far greater than any risks that people may perceive. He says, "There has been a lot of new science that has come out not necessarily looking at the levels of BPA in canned foods, but what is happening when BPA enters the body. I think that is of more concern".
He may have been talking about a study published in this month's Journal of Toxicological Sciences which proposes that BPA found in food may not be to blame for any harmful health effects. The researchers say that perhaps BPA is quickly metabolized and passes thru the body swiftly. Rost fully supports this piece of research and adds, "Your body is able to excrete it without it ever entering the bloodstream in a toxic form".
However other experts state that metabolic rates are variable depending on individuals, they then highlight previous research which indicates that BPA in blood or urine has an association with reproductive, developmental, or metabolic issues in animals.
Sonya Lunder, senior analyst at the Environmental Working Group in Washington, D.C. points out that, "We know that people metabolize BPA quickly, but we have daily contact with it and it is a very potent, toxic chemical in laboratory settings". She thinks that it is sensible to keep people's exposure to BPA as low as possible. She also points out that studies have only looked at adults and then says, “there is long-standing evidence that children, while they are also able to metabolize BPA, do it more slowly or not as completely".
Cutting the Risk of BPA Exposure
There are deeper studies into the health risks of exposure to BPA being carried out by the FDA, in partnership with the National Toxicology Program. The FDA accepts that the data available today is incomplete and advocates minimizing exposure whenever possible and awaits further study results before any further decisions will be made.
On the other hand the canning industry spokesman, John Rost, says that work finding a suitable replacement for the thirty year old BPA based epoxy liners is under way but cautions that no replacement is imminent. He also points out how successful the present method has been at eliminating bacteria from food in cans.
Clearly there can be no answer to the problem until further substantial research is carried out. But if you are concerned that your children may be being overexposed there are a few precautions you can take: eat fresh food instead of packaged or canned food, whenever you microwave food then put the food into a glass container, don’t microwave the food in a plastic container. And finally if you cannot find suitable fresh food then opt for frozen food before cans but always remove it from the plastic bags or trays before cooking.