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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

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.

allex says …

It seems that Whole Foods could eliminate this "whole" problem if they just used GLASS!!!! You have incredible buying power, why no glass!?!?! Not only is glass bpa free, but it is also one of the best recyclables, and is in in unlimited supply. As you know, the planet is facing a massive problem with plastic dust/particles in our landfills and oceans, this after only 100 years of plastic! Plastic never breaks down, and cannot be ingested by animals. Glass presents none of these problems! Again, why no glass?

says …

We are looking into alternatives to cans, but contrary to popular belief, we do not have a significant amount of buying power in the food packaging market. We are a relatively small player, but we are doing out best!

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

Jill says …

Please stop carrying organic produce in BPA packaging. I have brought to the attention of the store several times how Driscoll Organic Strawberries are packaged in a #7 plastic container (it could have been a #6 - it has been a few months since I have checked the packaging.) In this case, there is alternative packaging choices because other organic strawberry brand packages without the #7 label will be displayed right beside the BPA packages. I became aware of the BPA dangers when my Oncology Nutritionist told me to not eat food in #7, #6 or #3 plastics because they are concerned about hormones leaking from the plastics into the food - a concern for me because I had a hormone hungry breast cancer. Thanks -

Marti Peters says …

Does Whole Foods carry any canned goods which are BPA-free? Marti Peters

Mia St. James says …

Do you have any recommendations on what brands are "safe" enough to use for storing foods. My son has food allergies, so I prepare all his meals for school. I've purchased the pyrex storage containers but stopped sending them to school because I'm afraid if it breaks, I won't know if there are "chips" in his meals or not. So again, can you suggest any "safe" storage containers. I have been using Ziploc as they have advertised on their packaging "BPA free". Please advise. Thank you

lynn says …

Re: Water Jugs Are the jugs BPA free? I want to use them for the Culligan Water refills. Thanks. Lynn

says …

We’re in the process of reviewing our thermal tapes to determine whether BPA is used in their manufacture.

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.

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.

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.

Michele says …

You used to sell beans in glass containers (Whole Foods brand) -- could you do that again?

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.

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.

Mike says …

Another reason to go glass!

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.

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.

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?

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!

Colleen h says …

guess I will be canning A TON of tomatoes this summer! Why can't they just use glass???

Cindy says …

GREAT NEWS!! THANK YOU

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.

raquel says …

Thank you. Coming from FDA, it's really surprising!

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?

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.

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!

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.

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!

Emily says …

I spent a summer doing research on the migration of BPA from polycarbonate bottles way back in the summer of 2006 (http://healthnews.uc.edu/news/?/6387/). At that time, many people still carried water bottles composed of BPA-containing PC plastic. It's been really exciting to see the positive changes that WF and other organizations are making in their products in response to that research and the possibility that BPA may cause harm. Thanks for the great post!

Jasper Twowilliger says …

"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" um, well, that appears to be exactly what has taken place to generate their conclusions. Me thinks you protest too much. On another note, What hemp products in your vitamins or raw foods dept. are currently carried by whole foods that aren't in plastic? Do you carry ANY that aren't in BPA canisters? What if someone who loves hemp, but hates plastic wants to buy some at your store? Do you guys carry Jeff's Best Hemp! yet? It's our favorite best seller here in So Cal! How come so much of the 365 EFA's are in the dark shale plastic? Rise above plastic guys!

Anette Banamassa says …

So happy that you are so responsible in your reports. I use mostly fresh veggies or frozen--but the only concern now is the use of canned tomatoes. The only ones in a jar are the ready prepared sauces ( I like to make my own).Are you getting boxed or glass containers? Please advise! Thankyou for your attention to this problem.

Jennifer Christensen says …

For the question asked about canning jars - the lids on most canning jars do contain BPA. However, if you are canning or freezing liquids in it and the food does not come into contact with the lid you are ok. If you do need to have contact with the lid, there is at least one manufacturer that does not have BPA in its lids.

Valorie B says …

Hi. Wondering how we KNOW that plastic in bagged frozen foods is safe? So many plastics are not. Also, WFM sells bottles without BPA, to use with their filtered water station. I have noticed that they are made in China. Honestly, I don't trust much that is made in China, as month after month, we hear about dangerous substances in products manufactured in China. They may be BPA free, but what else is in them. Do we KNOW that these substances are safe?? Their standards seems to be pretty low. (Ie, lead in children;s toys, purses, among so many other problems). I Must agree, that going with GLASS seems to be the best possible solution! I am a long time, faithful WFM shopper. Whole Foods, please switch to products in glass wherever possible. Thank you!

Rich Armbruster says …

US Acrylic, a Libertyville-based manufacturer, is about to introduce a new line of BPA-free drinkware. This new line, Clarus, will be made exclusively from Eastman's Tritan copolyester. This is the same material used to make some of the best BPA-free water bottles on the market today. Additionally, this new product line offers some of the most durable, dishwasher-friendly tumblers available. Unsurpassed clarity and durability, plus no BPA concerns. This may aleviate many of our BPA concerns.

belinda carr says …

I appreciate your stand on bpa's. We also need to get real on bromide and flouride. would like to know WF stand on these 2 issues, Asn far as bpa's how many yrs do you expect it to take to make any changes knowing the gov.

Dori says …

I'm glad to hear that Eden foods have cans without BPA. Are all cans that are lined with white enamel also without BPA (such as Muir Glenn products?). Also, if "regular"cans are used (with BPA), is there more leaching of the chemical into the food with fatty foods, acidic foods, or does it leach into all equally? Hope all companies follow the BPA free-way soon!

says …

Hey Dori, See <a href="http://blog.wholefoodsmarket.com/2010/01/the-fda-changes-its-tune-on-bisphenol-a/#comment-46462" rel="nofollow">our response to Jennifer</a> about the coloring and linings. As for the changeable leaching, recent research suggests that small amounts of BPA may leach into foods or beverages stored in polycarbonate containers or BPA-lined cans, especially when the contents are acidic, high in fat, or heated. Hope that helps!

Anne Marie Harpstreit says …

Have we looked into using glass jars instead of the cans? Most of our Juice is in glass containers. Why can't our beans, vegetables and fruit be packaged this way? I would never by my water or juice sold in a plastic jug. Another option would be the Tetra packs or the paper packaging the a company named Dr.McDougalls prides themselves in usning. It's a BPA-free packaging that is light weight and less costly to ship than glass.----------------------------------anne marie harpstreit

karen werner says …

so, can you clarify one thing for me -is there BPA in the whole foods brand (365) canned tomatoes? thanks, Karen

says …

Currently, all of our 365 Everyday Value canned goods (as well as most other canned goods in the market) are packaged in cans with BPA linings. We are seeking alternative packaging for our canned products. Thanks for checking in.

Gage Ricard says …

I was just in Whole Foods in Santa Barbara an hour ago and specifically asked someone at the Customer Service Desk whether or not the can of 395 Black Beans (I showed them a can) was BPA free. I was told that it was BPA free. It sounds like perhaps I was given inaccurate information(?) based on Joe Dickson's response in a January 20 message ("Yes, like most aluminum cans in the market, our 365 brand products use BPA epoxy in the linings."). It's very helpful to have this blog as a resource to clarify contradictory information.

Linda Kush says …

I love WF and appreciate having alternatives to the unhealthy processed products in the general supermarkets. You have stated that WF is working with its can suppliers to eliminate BPA and discussed the problems with alternatives not being suitable for certain foods. Perhaps another alternative would be for WF to move toward glass containers and eliminate aluminum cans.

Colleen A says …

Are your plastic deli containers BPA free? These are the white-ish containers; "Plastic Packaging Corp., W. Springfield, MA; Re-usable; Dishwasher &amp; Microwave safe; HDPE #2". Are your clear olive bar containers BPA free? Thank you.

says …

Hey Colleen, Plastic deli and olive bar containers are not made from polycarbonate plastic, which is the plastic resin made from BPA. Thanks!

Jennifer Kisamore says …

How can you tell if a can has a lining with BPA? I switched to using the 365 Everyday Value tomato paste and diced tomatoes rather than jarred sauces because I thought they were BPA free (there doesn't seem to be a lining in them) whereas the lids on the jars have a plastic undercoating. I also was wearry of another brands cans because they have a white lining. I thought that was BPA lining and the 365 cans were not, but that doesn't seem to be the case. How can you tell which are safe?

says …

Hey Jennifer, With very few exceptions, aluminum cans are lined with a BPA-epoxy based lining, and there’s no one color associated with this material. We’re working closely with our suppliers to explore alternatives, but the 365 cans are currently all lined with BPA epoxy. Thanks!

A. Guinness says …

In January you mentioned research into whether the WF receipts contain BPA. What was the result on that? I'm sorry to hear that even the 365 cans have BPA ~ your coconut milk is the only canned product I eat! Too bad, it'll have to go. Anyway, thanks for working with other companies to look for alternatives. AG

says …

Hey A., We found that certain papers contained BPA, and others were free of the substance. We’re in the process of helping our stores identify and transition to the non-BPA papers. Thanks!

Kim says …

Can you tell me if the frozen food bags as well as rice and dry bean container plastics also have BPA content? One other question is about the containers for the bulk food items...both the shipping and the "on shelf" containers. Would you give up using plastic wrap with cheeses, please?

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