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Thanksgiving Trouble: BPA in Canned Food


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By Debra Atlas

Along with family gatherings, too much food, and football, Thanksgiving is a time for food donations to those in need. But there’s an underside to these canned goods that spells trouble.

A new report by The Breast Cancer Fund called “BPA in Thanksgiving Canned Food” reveals that many of the canned foods associated with Thanksgiving contain high levels of BPA (Bisphenol A). BPA is used in a wide variety of applications, including linings of metal canned goods. It can leach from the inner metal coatings of the cans into the food itself. It also leaches from products like plastic food storage containers and baby bottles.

The use of Bisphenol A has been controversial for years. The 2003-2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found detectable levels of the chemical in 93 percent of over 2,500 urine samples from people ages 6 and older. In 2007, the Environmental Working Group’s independent lab tests of food can lining found the chemical in more than 50 percent of the 97 cans tested. One in 10 of all the food cans tested contained enough of the substance to expose a woman or infant to levels more than 200 times the government’s supposed “safe” level of exposure for industrial chemicals.

Since 2008, Health Canada has restricted the use of the chemical, declaring it a “dangerous substance.” A 2009 report showed BPA can interfere with our hormone system at even extremely low doses. The Breast Cancer Fund’s report shows that many of the canned foods traditionally associated with Thanksgiving contain high levels of Bisphenol A.

Researchers tested 28 cans of seven holiday-related foods, including Campbell’s turkey gravy, Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup, Green Giant cut green beans, Carnation condensed milk, Ocean Spray jellied cranberry sauce and Libby’s canned pumpkin. 12 of the 28 cans tested contained Bisphenol A levels that would be harmful to the average woman. The test also revealed one exception: there was no Bisphenol A detected in any of the cans of Ocean Spray Cranberry Sauce.

The report, which is part of the Breast Cancer Fund’s Cans Not Cancer campaign, states that consuming multiple cans of food with higher levels of the toxic substance could lead to health issues such as abnormalities in breast development, which can increase the risk of developing breast cancer. Even moderate levels of exposure by pregnant women has been associated with disruptions to in-utero brain development.

Donations of canned goods unintentionally pose serious health risks for those with low incomes, and in communities of color. Statistics show that African Americans are being diagnosed with breast cancer at younger ages and breast cancer is now the number one cause of cancer deaths among Latina women. As this new report shows, there is a direct correlation between canned food use, BPA and increased risk of breast cancer.

A joint study by the Breast Cancer Fund and the Silent Spring Institute, however, reveal a hopeful scenario. When three families replaced their regular diet with one emphasizing fresh produce, and did eat any canned goods or foods packaged in plastic, their BPA levels dropped by 66 percent. When they started eating canned food again, their BPA levels shot back up to pre-testing levels.

This holiday, you might want to steer clear of canned goods and go with fresh ingredients instead, or look for products in glass containers instead of metal. Some food manufacturers like Eden brand have begun making changes away from including this chemical in their packaging. Consumers should know that how we spend our dollars speaks volumes to them.

For related article, see:
A Greener, Healthier Thanksgiving Feast

Check out more articles by Debra Atlas.

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