Bisphenol-A

What is Bisphenol-A?

Bisphenol-A (BPA) is a chemical compound found in polycarbonate plastic, a hard, clear plastic used widely in consumer products, including food and beverage containers, and also found in the linings of aluminum cans. Recent research suggests that small amounts of BPA may leach into foods or beverages stored in polycarbonate containers, especially when the contents are acidic, high in fat, or heated. Research also suggests that, at certain levels, BPA acts as an endocrine disruptor, a substance which mimics natural human hormones.

In January, 2010, the FDA acknowledged that there are legitimate questions about the safety of Bisphenol A, and the FDA and NIEHS (National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences) have committed to pursuing and funding research to answer them and assess the safety of BPA as a food contact surface. The agency also recommended that, in the interim period while that research is being conducted, the food industry take steps to transition away from the use of BPA in baby bottles, and minimize or stop its use in other food applications.

What is Whole Foods Market's policy on BPA?

We are committed to helping our customers protect themselves and their families and as such are concerned about the growing body of research which connects BPA and other estrogenic compounds, including phthalates, to certain negative health effects. We are currently evaluating certain products and packaging materials on a variety of criteria, including endocrine activity, toxicity, recyclability and functionality. Our goal is to help our shoppers avoid endocrine-active materials in products and packaging where functional alternatives exist.

What actions has Whole Foods Market taken with regard to BPA?

  • Whole Foods Market does not use register tapes in any US stores that are made with bisphenol-a (BPA). Our goal is to avoid BPA where functional alternatives exist, and we are carefully reviewing the printer papers used in our stores on a variety of criteria. We are also working closely with the EPA’s Alternatives in Thermal Paper Partnership, a group of retailers, manufacturers and technical experts recently convened to advance alternatives to BPA-containing receipt tape.

  • We have alerted our customers to the emerging research about BPA since 2005, and we were the first national retailer to ban BPA-containing polycarbonate baby bottles and child cups in January 2006.

  • We work with our suppliers to strongly encourage the transition to non-BPA materials where functional alternatives exist. For example, the majority of the refillable individual water bottles in our stores were once made from polycarbonate plastic. Because of our work to encourage the transition away from BPA, nearly all of those bottles are now made from other materials, and we are working with our buyers and suppliers to finalize the transition away from polycarbonate water bottles completely.

  • We actively pressure our canned good suppliers to transition to functional and safe alternative materials, and we are pleased that a number of national brands have begun the transition to non-BPA cans for a number of items. We have also been pursuing the use of alternatives to cans, such as glass jars and aseptic packaging (the paperboard cartons often used for broths or soy milks). It appears that many current alternatives will work well to protect low-acid foods but not higher-acid foods, so it’s difficult to identify a single alternative that will work for all products. We also want to avoid using a material that is made without BPA but contains other estrogenic materials or toxins.

  • In our store brands, our buyers are not currently accepting any new canned items with BPA in the lining material, and we have met with each of our suppliers and their can manufacturers to develop plans for their transition to non-BPA cans. 

  • The manufacturing of cans in the U.S. is dominated by a small number of very large companies. Whole Foods Market represents a very tiny slice of the overall canned good market, so our leverage is limited. Despite the uphill nature of this battle, we are working with a group of like-minded companies and socially responsible investors to continue to push for alternatives.

  • Our Quality Standards Team actively follows academic research and regulatory developments regarding the endocrine activity of substances present in plastics, including BPA. BPA is one of many substances that act as endocrine disruptors, and we are cautious to avoid replacing BPA-containing materials with other toxic or estrogenic substances. We work with academic experts and alternative plastic suppliers to stay on the leading edge of this issue.

To date, we have done more than any other U.S. retailer to inform our customers and take action on the issue. We continue to closely examine the packaging materials used in our stores, and we will continue to search for the safest and most functional packaging materials for our stores.

Are #7 bottles safe?

Note that #7 stands for a number of different materials; Polycarbonate plastic is generally marked with the #7 recycling symbol, but not all plastics marked #7 are polycarbonate. While research suggests certain plastics contain estrogenic materials, more research is needed to show conclusively that these substances are harmful to humans via exposure from food packaging. We are pursuing the answers, working with leading experts and our suppliers to understand this complex issue.

What is the National Toxicology Program, and what did their recent report on BPA say?

The purpose of the NTP — and its Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction, which issued the report — is to provide scientific evaluations of the potential for harm to humans from substances in the environment. The NTP issued a draft report on BPA on April 14, 2008. In this report, the NTP evaluated relevant scientific research on BPA and its health effects, and made the following preliminary conclusions:

  • People are exposed to BPA from a number of sources, primarily the diet, as BPA can migrate into foods and beverages from polycarbonate plastic. Food temperature appears to be one major factor in determining the rate of leaching.

  • BPA can possibly affect human development or reproduction. There is not sufficient data on the effects of low doses of BPA such as those caused by food contact to make a definite conclusion. NTP writes that "the results of 'low' dose studies on BPA provide limited evidence for adverse effects on development in laboratory animals."

  • There is some reason for concern for the effects of BPA on humans, and there is a definite need for further research in this area.

NTP's final version of the report was released in September, 2008. The center's final conclusions were consistent with their preliminary findings.

What did the September 2008 Jama Articles say about BPA?

A study in the September 17, 2008 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association examined the association between blood BPA levels and certain diseases. Higher BPA levels were associated with higher incidences of cardiovascular diagnoses and diabetes as well as abnormal levels of certain liver enzymes; no correlation was found between BPA and any other diseases.

This study is an important one in the very young field of research on BPA and its relationship to human health. The authors conclude that "These findings add to the evidence suggesting adverse effects of low-dose BPA in animals. Independent replication and follow-up studies are needed to confirm these findings and to provide evidence on whether the associations are causal."

The authors highlight the "multiple potential routes of human exposure" for BPA; humans are exposed to this substance not just through diet but via medical and dental devices, airborne dust and transdermal exposure. This study does not assess the likelihood of exposure via the various potential exposure routes, and we believe this is an area of study that should be further researched. Consumers and the food industry would benefit immensely from a more sophisticated understanding of how humans are exposed to BPA.

What is Whole Foods Market's position on the FDA's January 2010 Report on BPA?

In January 2010, the FDA issued its updated guidance and interim position on the safety of BPA as a food contact and packaging material. In this report, the FDA acknowledges that there are a number of uncertainties related to the safety of BPA, and commits resources and funding to conducting further research to evaluate BPA’s safety. While this research is ongoing, the FDA supports reasonable industry measures to transition away from BPA. While there is no change to the regulation of BPA and polycarbonate materials – their status as allowed food contact surfaces remains unchanged – this guidance represents the first time that the FDA has acknowledged that there may be risks associated with BPA, and acknowledged the need for broader research and more detailed review. Whole Foods Market will continue to closely follow the FDA’s process and update our shoppers on this issue.

For more information, please see the FDA’s BPA Report and the Health and Human Services BPA Safety Page.