Whole Story

The Official Whole Foods Market® Blog

The FDA Changes Its Tune on Bisphenol-A

By Joe Dickson, January 19, 2010  |  Meet the Blogger  |  More Posts by Joe Dickson

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

Category: Food Safety




Shaya Mercer says ...
A great step in the right direction! I have two questions for you: are you aware of any canned goods that haven't used BPA or have already switched away from BPA at this point? Do Tetra-Paks use BPA? Thanks!
01/19/2010 1:13:42 PM CST
dicksonj says ...
Thanks, Shaya. We know that Eden Foods has switched to a non-BPA epoxy for a major part of their line. Tetra-pak or aseptic containers are usually lined with PET, which isn’t made up of BPA.
01/19/2010 1:20:24 PM CST
screwdestiny says ...
But it is safe for adults, they think? I'm just curious because I don't have any children in my household, so I'm wondering if I should even be concerned (for myself) about BPA in the canned foods that I buy.
01/19/2010 2:58:30 PM CST
dicksonj says ...
One of the reasons the FDA has changed its position is that there are so many questions to answer about BPA. Because infants and children are still developing, they can be much more sensitive to substances that mimic human hormones, but there are also still many questions to answer about the effects of BPA for adults. We believe that, where alternatives exist, it makes sense to switch away from BPA, and I hope the FDA’s announcement will accelerate the development of alternatives.
01/19/2010 3:30:47 PM CST
Rich Haslam says ...
Bpa is also found on thermal reciept paper. A recent study found 1,000,000 times as much on a reciept than found in plastics. Do you use Bpa free reciept paper?
01/19/2010 5:48:57 PM CST
dicksonj says ...
We’re in the process of reviewing our thermal tapes to determine whether BPA is used in their manufacture.
01/19/2010 7:01:04 PM CST
raquel says ...
Thank you. Coming from FDA, it's really surprising!
01/20/2010 10:11:14 AM CST
Kim Cotton says ...
Something you can do is support other companies that have made a commitment to eliminating BPA in their own products, like Eden Foods. In my local WF, my only option in many product categories is you house 365 brand when I know Eden produces the product in non-BPA packaging. Until you can say everything in your line is in BPA-free packages, please give customers some options.
01/20/2010 10:20:01 AM CST
Cindy says ...
01/20/2010 10:44:43 AM CST
Colleen h says ...
guess I will be canning A TON of tomatoes this summer! Why can't they just use glass???
01/20/2010 11:20:40 AM CST
Em says ...
I also wonder why we can't have more glass containers? That would solve the problem...of the BPA lined cans, and the use of plastic bottles for foodstuffs like salad dressings, juices, etc... the way foods were packaged before plastics and BPA linings!! Let's avoid plastics for food!
01/20/2010 7:16:25 PM CST
Bernadette says ...
I wanted to know if your 365 Brand product cans have a BPA lining. If they do, are you trying to change to a safer lining?
01/20/2010 8:51:31 PM CST
dicksonj says ...
Yes, like most aluminum cans in the market, our 365 brand products use BPA epoxy in the linings. We do want to change to a safer lining, and we’ve told our can suppliers that we expect them to work with us to identify and develop alternatives that are functional and BPA free.
01/20/2010 9:15:21 PM CST
Dee says ...
Thank you, Whole Foods! I've recently become aware of the research Jillian Michaels has done with regards to BPA & other toxins. In my home I'm trying to replace most plastic food containers with glass or food-safe ceramic. I understand that Eden Foods is one canned food source that does not use BPA in many of its cans. And no, screwdestiny, BPA is not safe for those of us who care for our bodies. I suggest reading the book, "Master Your Metabolism" for a good overview of the subject. Keep on that good path, Whole Foods. Thank you.
01/20/2010 9:19:38 PM CST
Pat Rains says ...
Although BPA might not directly be a carcenagen, I believe it's effects are cumulative, and eventually has the potential to cause cancer. I will certainly avoid them.
01/20/2010 10:09:54 PM CST
Mike says ...
Another reason to go glass!
01/21/2010 12:04:35 AM CST
Rosa Lynn Akins says ...
I have been studying this, the chemicals we release into our foods by using plastic in the microwave or ovens, and the added fillers in our medications and foods for some time. It is certainly something we all need to be more aware of! Thanks for posting this.
01/21/2010 4:04:47 AM CST
hambley g. j. says ...
I plan to use fresh wherever and whenever the situation allows. My approach in supporting the change is to refrain from buying any canned product that I have purchased in the past that is suspect of containing BPA. Another step would be to notify the companies where I have been spending my $'s of my decision.
01/21/2010 8:39:55 AM CST
Michele says ...
You used to sell beans in glass containers (Whole Foods brand) -- could you do that again?
01/21/2010 11:25:26 AM CST
dicksonj says ...
Hi Michele. I brought your question to our Private Label team, who told me they're considering bringing back the glass jars. Stay tuned!
01/21/2010 11:45:50 AM CST
lynn says ...
Re: Water Jugs Are the jugs BPA free? I want to use them for the Culligan Water refills. Thanks. Lynn
01/21/2010 5:11:08 PM CST
dicksonj says ...
Lynn - Let me know which jugs (brand and store) you're talking about and I can find out. We're working towards transitioning away from BPA in all the plastic bottles, but there are some stragglers, especially with the larger sizes.
01/22/2010 12:47:15 PM CST
helen says ...
colleen--watch out canning jar lids are also coated w/bpa lining! does wholefood sell any that are not? package in glass jars please!--so good for re-use
01/22/2010 5:34:48 PM CST
Marti Peters says ...
Does Whole Foods carry any canned goods which are BPA-free? Marti Peters
01/23/2010 5:22:25 PM CST
GiGi hamilton says ...
Thanks for keeping us all up to date on these important issues. Is there anyone that knows of alternative things for us to use? Bringing it our attention is fanatasic but telling us what the other things out there are available to use is helpful also.
01/24/2010 2:20:10 PM CST