Thursday, October 21, 2010

Industry Progress on BPA Phase-Out

Responding to major consumer concerns over the use of Bisphenol A (BPA), many large corporations, including ConAgra and General Mills, have made faster progress than expected in phasing BPA out of their product portfolio, according to a recent report.

BPA is an organic compound frequently used in plastic baby products and food packaging. Scientific evidence has raised the concern of significant development danger in human consumption of food or liquids in contact with BPA containers, without proving danger in clinical trials or cohort studies.

The NGO As You Sow, in collaboration with the green tech investment fund Green Century Capital Management, recently published a report grading industry progress in eliminating the use of BPA, company by company. The report shows that, in part due to investment activism, some major companies have made rapid progress in phasing out BPA, as compared with 2009. BPA is present in many plastic products, in general food and liquid containers, and in metal can liners for food packaging.

In particular, Heinz, ConAgra, and Hain Celestial have started using PBA-free packaging, are committed to eliminating BPA, and have a timeline for getting there. General Mills, Nestle, Sarah Lee and McCormick are all committed to eliminating BPAs, and have engaged in large scale tests to identify alternative packaging. Other companies, such as While Foods, Costco, Kellogg, PepsiCo or Smuckers, are making some progress in moving towards PBA-free packaging, but have not demonstrated total commitment or started engaging in alternative packaging tests.

Laggards in the field, who have not committed to eliminating PBAs, include Coca-Cola, Safeway, Del Monte, Kraft, Unilever, Herschey, and Wal-Mart.

BPAs are an unusual case as an environmental concern, because it has not been proven to be nefarious to human consumption in clinical trials. Yet the scientific concerns surrounding it are such that many in the environmental community believe it should be phased out nonetheless. The FDA has recently expressed concern about BPAs, while Canada on October 13 of this year became the first country to officially declare BPA a toxic substance.

We are of two minds about BPA and the controversy around it. On the one hand, all of us at have gotten rid of all of our BPA containers, in particular for those that were in use with our children. At the same time, we are slightly leery of too much legislation being passed before human consequences are proven for BPA. Clearly, it is important to stop the use of potentially nefarious substances before they have a chance to impact a whole generation of children or more, such as what happened with lead paint. And yet, where do you stop before significantly damaging the tissue of our industrial society? We wish we had an answer to that...

Want to read more about it? Try Fast Company and USA Today.

The 2010 BPA Progress report  (PDF) by As You Sow and Green Century Capital Management
The 2009 BPA Progress Report (PDF) by As You Sow and Green Century Capital Management

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