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March 2018

BPA-Free Does Not Mean a Product is Chemical-Free (Or Safe)

March 2018

If you make a habit of reading food and beverage packaging labels, you've probably seen many claiming a product is BPA-Free. But what does that mean, and why is that statement made?

The proliferation of BPA-Free labels indicates some product manufacturers have decided to replace, or avoid, materials made with Bisphenol-a (BPA). In that regard, the purpose of a BPA-Free label might be more about sales and marketing rather than consumer transparency. The manufacturer may be trying to make you think that the product is somehow better without Bisphenol-a.

But if BPA is replaced, it must be replaced with something that does its job, which most likely will be another chemical. How do you know that the replacement actually is better than what it replaced? A recent media article describes an interesting case study that illustrates why you can't simply assume a BPA replacement is better.

By way of background, for more than 50 years epoxy resins (which are made from BPA) have been used as the protective lining inside many food and beverage cans. The lining helps prevent can corrosion and contamination of the contents. Epoxy resins excel in this application but, because they may contain trace levels of residual BPA, many manufacturers have replaced BPA with other chemicals in their can-lining chemicals.

As reported in the article linked above, an Arizona winery had to pull a new, canned sparkling wine product from store shelves because of a "foul odor that emanates when the can is opened." The odor was described as a "sharp mix of sulfur and rubber" with "the sharp pungency of a rotten egg" that comes from the can lining.

The article notes the winery was using cans with a new type of lining in order to avoid BPA. But, as this case study makes clear, BPA was replaced with another chemical. (If we can smell it (or taste it), regardless of whether it has a foul or pleasant odor, we can be sure that a chemical is present.)

Just because it is different, how do we know the BPA-replacement chemical is better, or even safe for human use? In general, we have no way to know, since BPA-Free labels only tell us what the product does not contain (i.e., it does not contain BPA) but not what it actually does contain. The label may be factual, but not necessarily complete or helpful. It may very well just represent a marketing decision.

This is rather ironic in light of the recent announcement from the U.S. National Toxicology Program (NTP) on the CLARITY Core Study, which is the largest study ever conducted on Bisphenol-a. The results demonstrate that BPA has very little potential to harm us, even when we're exposed to it throughout our lives. As noted in a statement from Dr. Stephen Ostroff, Deputy Commissioner for Foods and Veterinary Medicine at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), "our initial review supports our determination that currently authorized uses of BPA continue to be safe for consumer."



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