September 21/San Francisco and Washington/Discovery News and Business Wire-- If food comes in a can, it is likely to contain the worrisome chemical bisphenol A (BPA), according to a new study. The study looked at six popular name-brand products.

Advocacy groups have managed to get companies to remove BPA from baby bottles, sippy cups, pacifiers and other products made for small children. The new findings suggest that food cans might be their next major target.

"Every single can we tested had BPA, and they could potentially expose people at levels of concern," said Connie Engel, science education coordinator for the San Francisco-based Breast Cancer Fund, which released the new study. "We know that consumer pressure on the market can lead to changes. If enough of us talk about this, the market will respond and we'll have BPA-free foods."

A slew of recent studies have shown that BPA can seep into food that is packaged in all kinds of materials, particularly in the linings of cans. Other research has found that nearly all preschoolers harbor BPA in their bodies, primarily as a result of the food they eat. Furthermore, when people stop eating canned and plastic-packaged foods, the level of BPA in their bodies goes down.

To zero in on the main sources of exposure for kids, Engel and colleagues gathered six types of popular canned products that are marketed directly to children. Some showed cartoon characters or kids on their labels. Other labels claimed things like, "Taste kids love!"

The researchers sent two of each product -- one from a grocery store in the Bay Area and one from a market in Wisconsin -- to an independent testing lab. On average, soups contained about 77 parts per billion (ppb) of BPA, and prepared meals contained 21 ppb. Those levels were on par with what other studies have found in canned foods made for adults. It did not matter whether products were organic or conventional.

The highest levels of BPA, ranging from 71-148 ppb, appeared in cans of Disney Princess Cool Shapes Shaped Pasta with Chicken in Chicken Broth and cans of Toy Story Fun Shapes Shaped Pasta with Chicken in Chicken Broth, both made by Campbell's. Earth's Best Organic Elmo Noodlemania Soup and Annie's Homegrown Organic Cheesy Ravioli fell in the middle. At the bottom, with levels ranging from 10-21 ppb, were Chef Boyardee's Whole Grain Pasta Mini ABC's & 123's with Meatballs and Campbell's Spaghettios with Meatballs.

Scientists do not yet know how much BPA a product needs to contain before it starts causing health issues. Some experts and industry groups argue that our bodies metabolize BPA too quickly to make these kinds of levels problematic. There are also no studies that definitively demonstrate harm in humans.

Animal studies show that tiny amounts of BPA can cause breast cancer and other problems, said William Goodson, a breast surgeon at the California Pacific Medical Center Research Institute in San Francisco. In a lab study published in the journal Carcinogenesis, he and colleagues also found that BPA causes two changes in cells that make them more vulnerable to cancer. Controlled studies cannot be done on people, he added, because 95% of us already harbor detectable levels of BPA in our bodies.

The North American Metal Packaging Alliance (NAMPA) issued a statement on the study's findings: “The supermarket survey of a handful of canned food products by the Breast Cancer Fund offers further confirmation that only a very small amount of bisphenol A (BPA) is found in food packaging, and those levels are well within the safety recommendations of government agencies.

“This latest small sample survey provides no new scientific evidence regarding the safety of BPA once it enters the human body. Of much greater relevance to those concerned about BPA exposure are the findings of a recent government study conducted by a team of scientists from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. This comprehensive, first-of-its-kind clinical exposure study, funded entirely by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), offers definitive evidence that even the highest exposure levels of BPA from canned foods and beverages did not lead to detectable amounts in the human blood stream.”

"The EPA-funded study emphatically showed there is not a health risk from BPA exposure in canned foods because of how the body processes and eliminates the compound from the body, in children as well as adults," said Dr. John M. Rost, chairman of NAMPA. "Unlike the supermarket survey, the EPA study examined what happens to BPA once in the body, and found that the human body is remarkably efficient in metabolizing and eliminating the chemical through urine. In sum, it is very unlikely that BPA could cause health effects."

"The BPA exposure levels cited in this latest supermarket survey are very consistent with similar, but much broader surveys of packaged food conducted within the past year by government agencies, including the FDA and Health Canada," continued Rost. "The only difference is in the conclusions reached. Based on their survey results, both FDA and Health Canada concluded that current exposure through canned foods does not pose a health risk to consumers, including newborns and infants."

 

From the September 21, 2011, Prepared Foods' Daily News.