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The FDA Changes Its Tune on Bisphenol-A

Bisphenol-A (BPA) is a chemical used to make plastics and other materials used in many food packaging applications, from can linings to baby bottles (see my last post on BPA for some background). Many of us who have been working on the BPA issue for years were quite surprised, on Friday, to learn that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had changed its position on the chemical, admitting for the first time that they, too, have questions about its safety. For as long as they’ve had a position on BPA, the FDA’s position has been that it’s safe and suitable for food contact. With this announcement, the FDA admits that “on the basis of results from recent studies using novel approaches to test for subtle effects, both the National Toxicology Program at the National Institutes of Health and FDA have some concern about the potential effects of BPA on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants, and young children.” To translate: There still isn’t conclusive evidence that BPA is harmful, but there are a number of question marks that need to be resolved through research – and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) was just awarded about 30 million dollars to pursue that research. In the meantime, the FDA has announced its interim position and the steps it is taking regarding BPA:

  • FDA is taking reasonable steps to reduce human exposure to BPA in the food supply. These steps include:
    • supporting the industry’s actions to stop producing BPA-containing baby bottles and infant feeding cups for the U.S. market;
    • facilitating the development of alternatives to BPA for the linings of infant formula cans; and
    • supporting efforts to replace BPA or minimize BPA levels in other food can linings.
  • FDA is supporting a shift to a more robust regulatory framework for oversight of BPA.
  • FDA is seeking further public comment and external input on the science surrounding BPA.

— from FDA’s 1/10/10 report

We’re very pleased that the FDA has chosen to take this issue seriously – both by acknowledging that there are legitimate questions and by committing the resources and the money to begin to answer them. As always, we will carefully monitor the issue, provide our comments and perspective to the FDA, and keep our customers informed on any major developments. What We’ve Been Doing About BPA The FDA’s recommendations are consistent with the path that we at Whole Foods Market have taken over the past few years. Our position has been that there are enough questions about BPA that, when there are functional alternatives available, it makes sense to avoid the use of BPA.  Back in February of 2006, we were the first major retailer in the U.S. to ban baby bottles and child cups made from BPA-containing polycarbonate plastic. More recently, we’ve been working very closely with our canned food suppliers to help them transition away from the use of BPA in food can linings. The FDA’s recent recommendations validate the steps that we’ve already taken and will continue to advance. Here’s a quick overview of what we’ve done on the issue:

  • We have worked 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.
  • Our Quality Standards Team actively follows academic research and regulatory developments regarding the endocrine activity of substances present in plastics, including BPA. We work with academic experts and alternative plastic suppliers to stay on the leading edge of this issue.
  • Polycarbonate plastic is still used in certain bottles and in aluminum can linings in our stores; we are currently working with manufacturers to strongly encourage the development of packaging that uses alternative materials. We have asked our major manufacturers of canned goods to present us with their plans for transitioning away from BPA-containing materials.
  • Frustratingly, there are very few effective BPA-free cans available on the market. A few manufacturers have produced BPA-free cans, but the supply is very limited and they are only effective for a narrow range of foods. BPA-based epoxy lining is the industry standard for the lining of canned foods, with very few exceptions. This lining material works very effectively to protect the integrity of food. We are actively working with experts in the field to find an alternative material that works just as well without the presence of BPA or any other substances of concern.
  • 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. The FDA’s new focus should help us in this effort.
  • To date, we have done more than any other U.S. retailer to inform our customers and take action on the issue. When appropriate, we have stopped the sale of certain products and/or provided information to our customers about the products.

Complex issues of food safety are seldom simple, and there are almost always trade-offs. BPA epoxy resin is the best lining for cans, in terms of protecting food integrity, extending shelf life, and ensuring the safety the food inside, but as we’ve learned, it may not be as safe as the industry once believed. Our goal is to continue to push for food packaging materials that protect food and keep it safe, without the leaching of BPA or any other toxic or estrogenic materials. We hope the FDA’s new direction on this issue — both in recommending the minimal use of BPA and in committing to researching the questions — will give new energy and momentum to the food industry’s transition away from BPA. For More Information: Dept. of Health and Human Services BPA Safety Page FDA’s BPA Update Page

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126 comments

Comments

says …

Kim, Plastic bags are generally made without resins that contain bisphenol-A. Bulk food items may be stored in containers that are made from BPA-based materials, such as polycarbonate plastic. We are actively reviewing and testing containers made from alternative materials. On the question of using plastic wraps for cheese, we use plastic wrap because it preserves cut cheese and ensures its quality and safety. If you prefer to buy cheese not wrapped in plastic, please feel free to ask a team member to cut your cheese to order and they’ll wrap it in cheese paper. Thanks!

Deborah says …

I had read one of the blogs discussing BPA that included a list of three to five (don't remember exactly how many) canned food brands that are BPA free which Whole Foods sells (Eden Organics being one of them). I have gone back to look for that same blog but can't find it. Joe or Winnie, can you list those same brands here? It would be very much appreciated.

says …

@Deborah, We're not sure which blog you're talking about, but we do know that Eden Foods has switched to a non-BPA epoxy for a major part of their line. Truly BPA-free cans (and lids) are hard to come by as of yet. Thanks!

Michael says …

Eden foods has a web page titled: "How Eden Foods Pioneered BPA-Free Cans.” It’s very interesting. It discusses the obstacles they faced, and how they solved them. It also explains why its tomatoes are still canned using BPA (blame the FDA): http://www.edenfoods.com/articles/view.php?articles_id=178

John Doyle says …

There may be more for you to do. Have you determined if BPA is present in your cash register receipts? Please see my daughter's post about BPA in receipt paper on her BodyEarth blog. http://www.bodyearth.net/health/bpa/bpa-its-not-just-for-dinner-anymore/ Thank you. JFD

Jill Davis says …

We are all waiting to see if Wholefoods has tested their receipt paper for BPA. According to a new study by the Environmental Working Group, some retail receipts (Safeway) have 1,000 times the BPA as canned goods. http://www.ewg.org/bpa-in-store-receipts Could someone from WF please respond?? How much BPA is in your receipts? A major manufacturer of thermal paper who does not use BPA is Appleton Manufacturing of Wisconsin. I sincerely hope that WF is buying its receipt paper from this vendor, or another safe manufacturer.

Jill Davis says …

Wholefoods uses BPA-laden thermal paper to print its grocery receipts. This news made the newspapers today. http://content.usatoday.com/communities/greenhouse/post/2010/07/bpa-cash-register-receipts/1 According to the Environmental Working Group, the amount of BPA in receipts can be 1,000 times that found in cans or bottles. I wish Wholefoods would do the right thing and switch manufacturers. There are plenty of manufacturers of thermal paper that do not use BPA (like Appleton of Wisconsin). Clearly Wholefoods saw this coming. When were you planning on switching? By using BPA in your cans and receipt paper, you continue to expose your customers and employees to cancer and reproductive harm. We deserve an answer.

says …

@John and Jill, Most of our regions already use non-BPA thermal paper in their receipts, more are transitioning in the fall and the remaining are working with our stores to identify non-BPA thermal papers that are compatible with our store systems. Thanks!

Vicki Kindt says …

Are Whole Foods brand cans BPA free? I am especially interested in the tomato products. Also, does Whole Foods use BPA free receipt tape?

Sheryl says …

One thing Whole Foods could do to reduce people's exposure to BPA is commit to using only BPA-free receipts in all its stores. Apparently, Appleton, the largest thermal paper maker manufactures them and, starting this month (NOV '10), will be adding small red fibers to the receipts so customers and cashiers can identify them.

PBrown says …

Does Whole Foods carry any tomatoes in glass jars? If not, would you please consider it?

Tonia says …

Glass is a good alternative, however, BPA is found in the lining of the top of the can as well - look next time you open a jar of spaghetti sauce - that plastic is frequently BPA based....

Meghan says …

Just wondering if there's any update (a year later) on BPA-free brands you carry. Is it still only Eden Foods? As a pregnant woman, avoiding BPA is of great concern to me. Thanks.

Shana says …

I understand what you are saying about the limited availability of BPA free cans. However, if Trader Joes can do with their products, I would think you could do it with your 365 brand at the very least.

Marla says …

Did you see the NY Times article on Sunday 5/8/11 called “Hitting the Bottle”? A quick excerpt …“I’m struck by how many signs on the shelves advertise BPA-free bottles, BPA-free sippy cups. It breaks my heart. Manufacturers might be removing BPA, a chemical used to harden certain plastics, from their products, but they are substituting chemicals that may be just as dangerous, if not more so.” Here is the link to the full article: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/09/opinion/09browning.html?partner=MYWAY&ei=5065 I was really impressed when I walked into the WF baby section this month and saw stainless steel baby bottles and sippy cups aptly named the “Safe Starter” and “Safe Sippy.” I did quite a bit of research into stainless steel and have found it’s anti microbial, it doesn’t leach, it’s odorless, indestructible, it’s super lightweight for little hands and you can recycle it! I bought several of these new bottles and cups- My little ones love love them and I know they are safe! Kudos Whole Foods-Thank you for being the trailblazers once again!!!!

Desiree Girotto says …

I am anxiously awaiting a reply on the cash register receipt paper. There are currently bpa-free options on the market now. Please let us know about your receipt paper.

Bepkom says …

@Desiree: All of our stores are now using BPA-free receipt paper.

Victoria says …

I was wondering if the cash register receipt paper WF uses is still the kind covered in BPA? I have heard that alternative paper is available in Canada where BPA is banned so I wonder if it is making its way into use in the States. Thanks

Victoria says …

I didn't see the posts that Whole Foods HAS transitioned to BPA free cash register receipts. Way to lead the charge!

Laura says …

I think that the register receipt change is wonderful. Is there a status update on progress that has been made to get rid of bpa in can linings?

Bepkom says …

@Laura: Many of our suppliers are searching for alternative forms of packaging.

Keith Ensroth says …

Thank you so much for your open honesty about this important issue. It's good to know that there is a grocer continuing to work to protect our health. We trust Whole Foods for bringing us organic foods, MSC certified seafood, etc. Our trust goes up even higher when you are honest enough to state that there are things that need to change and that includes the very products that you sell at the moment.

Joshua says …

I know of a completely organic meal that has been safely grown and packaged for around 3 dollars a meal. It contains little to no food allergens in many of the meals, making it a completely safe meal for you and your family.

Cailey J says …

I am extremely committed to buying BPA-FREE products for the safety of myself and my family, and this is how I am dealing with the issue... After researching the dangers of BPA-ridden plastic baby bottles and sippy cups, I looked for alternatives that would not jeopardize the health of my children. I discovered a brand in WFM, Kid Basix, which makes STAINLESS STEEL baby bottles and sippy cups. I've switched over the WHOLE family and we're not looking back!

Lim Chin Teik says …

There have been a lot of talk about alternative bottles. I am involve in repackaging of liquid pharmaceuticals into plastic bottles. What alternative do you have ie. what type of bottles besides glass bottles which are too expensive.

Bobby H says …

@Jean Paskalides, Because our product selection varies between stores, I suggest contacting the grocery department of the store where you shop. Thanks!

says …

@Frances The US store receipts do not contain BPA. Our UK stores are currently working to identify a non-BPA provider. If you'd like to learn more please follow the link I've included below. Thanks for your interest! http://rock/?p=1278

FRANCES WILLIAMS says …

Do your store receipts have BPA? Thank you, Frances Williams

Jean Paskalides says …

I am looking for ready to eat beans packaged glass. I'd also like smaller portions as I can't eat an entire jar before they go bad.

Clarence says …

This site rocks !. I continuously find something new & different listed here. I appreciate you for that info.

gokkasten says …

Awesome blog, it's just like a game for me! It's so infomative and usefull, thanks a lot! If you post more of this great stuff, I'll visit your blog again!

Gary 101 says …

Great report, I too agree and have thought this for a long time; why don't we use more glass? Its the perfect packaging material!! Also, I grow a huge organic garden and sell at the local market but we have very very limited buyers, we need to educate the public on how much safer our home grown product is, in addition to better taste and safer on the environment due to less transportation. Again, Whole Food, please buy glass packaged products. Thanks tho for your support...thanks Gary

Anna Vita Lee says …

I am a small business owner who left the corporate world about a year and a half ago to launch a company, GONE NATIVE Foods, that brings local, organic ingredients in glass into the shelf stable food aisle. I used to cook a lot with San Marzanos in cans but wanted an alternative that was in glass and made using local ingredients. We offer organic-certified whole and crushed tomatoes in glass (and other products) and have been trying to gain consideration to be carried by Whole Foods. We currently source all ingredients fresh in Lancaster County PA and distribute in about a 200 mile radius around our farmers. We'd appreciate any support possible! Thanks, Anna

Minnesota Native says …

My understanding is that many cans (for products like beans, tomatoes, green chiles, etc.) are lined with BPA. Is Whole Foods looking at alternative packaging?

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@MINNESOTANATIVE - We are working with groups and suppliers on alternatives. You can find more information at http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/about-our-products/food-safety/bisphenol.

Shari says …

The FDA is a con artist. Without pressure from companies like Wholefoods and consumer groups who insist upon exploring 'behind the curtain', where on earth would we be? Your reference to can manufacturers being a small group of large companies is well made. The only way for consumers to be protected is by confronting these suppliers of dangerous materials with what they most often already know - that they are poisoning us by taking the cheapest way out. And then we're labeled as 'liberals' who are making life difficult by daring to question anything. Yikes and well done!

Charles Davis says …

i just ordered online Organic canned Black soy and black turtle beans which was delicious, packed in PBA lined cans. This is great product and I would like to buy at whole foods. Eden Foods has been using BPA free cans since 1999 and amber glass containers.

Mike Owen says …

The things you are doing to eliminate BPA's are commendable. When are you going to stop selling produce, meat and dairy products that are tainted with pesticides and artificial fertilizers. Many of the foods you sell contain these poisons. Great that you are working to eliminate all you have so far, but until you eliminate conventionally grown products, you are far from living up to your name "Whole Foods". Please continue your good work, but don't pound your chests until you have eliminated the rest of the big chem corporate death food from your shelves.

Theresa says …

I was on one of your Albuquerque yesterday and was told by two employees that all your products ate PBA free. Employees should be trained to answer correctly on this issue.

Marilyn Schwartz says …

I have recently discovered that receipts from supermarkets and other stores have high quantities of BPA in the store receipts given at cash registers. What have yu done about that?

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@MARILYN - Our US and Canada stores have confirmed that they are using non-BPA tapes or transitioning to an alternative. 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 that was recently convened to advance alternatives to BPA-containing receipt tape. For more information about our company’s stance on BPA, and the steps we have taken, see: http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/about-our-products/food-safety/bisphenol

i.lenz says …

I am a western canadian consumer extremely concerned about which food companies have eliminated BPA in their canned food products sold in my grocery stores in my area.Thank-you

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@I.LENZ - Since our products vary between store locations, I would suggest reaching out to your local store. I am not sure if store locations will have an entire list but they might know of brands that they sell. You can also look for our new 365 brand options that come in cartons instead of cans which will not contain BPA.

Kathleen Guidry says …

Are the gallon water jugs for the 365 drinking/distilled/spring water BPA free?

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@KATHLEEN- Thanks for checking! Yes, all of the 365 gallon and larger containers are BPA free.

Alex Scott Grunberg says …

I think that BPA is organic, and thats just fine with me.

mel says …

Is anyone else concerned about possible aluminum leaching from Tetra-Pak?!!!! I assume that some aluminum will leach, but how does one know how much. This unknown troubles me.

Tony says …

How about labeling containers with BPA.

david rowley says …

That's funny I work at whole foods and all the soups served on the hot bar are heated to serve in the plastic bags they come packaged in and the mac and cheese and other hot bar foods are reheated in a steamer with plastic wrap over the food to keep the steam out. Problem is 40 percent of the weight of plastic wrap is plasticizer aka BPA

jennifer Becker says …

I have been buying your 365 brand organic coconut milk. I have become worried your cans contain BPA. I noticed recently, the cans now have a white lining on the inside that was not present a few months ago. Do your cans of organic coconut milk contain BPA? If so, when will it be phased out? -Regards, Jennifer Becker

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