BPA and Food Cans in Canada

What parents need to know about bisphenol A in food packaging
canned peaches
© Can Stock Photo / HandmadePictures

Many Canadian parents were relieved when the government banned the toxic chemical Bisphenol A (BPA) from baby bottles and sippy cups. But did you know that BPA continues to be used in Canada in plastics, receipts, and can linings?

Over 300 studies have linked BPA to harmful effects ranging from obesity to cancer. As a chemical that mimics the hormone estrogen, BPA is an endocrine disrupting chemical. It can interfere with human hormones, and children's developing bodies are even more vulnerable to the effects of exposure.

In 2016 we released a new report on BPA in food cans. BPA is used to make an epoxy-resin lining that forms a protective barrier between the metal can and the food contents. For the report, we collaborated with five groups in the United States (the U.S. Breast Cancer Fund; Campaign for Healthier Solutions; Clean Production Action; Ecology Centre; and Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families’ Mind the Store Campaign) to test 192 food cans collected from major North American retailers.

The results

129 (67 per cent) of the cans tested contained BPA. And 17 out of 21 cans from Canada (81 per cent) contained BPA in the inner lining.

The cans we purchased in Canada came from the three largest grocery retailers: Loblaws, Sobeys, and Walmart. The cans included vegetables like cut green beans and corn niblets, chick peas, chicken broth, coconut milk, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin puree. We chose popular brands including: Del Monte, Campbell’s, Green Giant, President’s Choice, Compliments, and Great Value.

The results:

  • 17 of the 21 cans we tested contained BPA in the inner lining.
  • All three Canadian retailers in this study sold food cans with BPA, including in their private labels (President’s Choice, No Name, Great Value, Compliments and Signal).
  • All Campbell’s food cans tested contained BPA.
  • Broth and gravy cans were the most likely (100 per cent of tested cans overall) to contain BPA.
  • Many companies are replacing BPA-based resin with problematic types including polyvinyl chloride (or PVC which is a known carcinogen), polystyrene (a possible human carcinogen) and polyesters resins – all related to plastics.

Why should you be concerned?

BPA was declared toxic by the Canadian federal government in 2010. A vast amount of scientific research links BPA exposure, even at very low levels (parts per billion), to increased risk of: breast and prostate cancers, infertility, early puberty in females, type-2 diabetes, obesity, asthma, and impaired neurological development in children.

Recent government data in Canada from the Canadian Health Measures Survey (CHMS) show a link between levels of BPA in urine and hyperactivity and low prosocial behaviour, like sharing and helping, in children aged 6-17.

From "Is That Can of Green Beans Toxic?" by Muhannad Mulas, Environmental Defence Canada

Seven years after BPA was declared toxic, over 90 per cent of Canadians between the ages of three and 79 still had BPA in their bodies. Recent scientific data supported by international agencies, such as the French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health and Safety, shows that dietary sources are responsible for the majority of our bodily BPA, and food cans account for around 50 per cent of our dietary exposure. Families and children of lesser economic means may rely more on canned foods and be disproportionately exposed to BPA.

Phasing out BPA in Canada

None of the Canadian retailers we surveyed for the report provided details on plans to phase out BPA from their private label food cans, all of which were found to contain BPA.

After the survey period, one Canadian retailer, Loblaws, provided a statement on BPA, indicating the company has been looking at alternatives but has focused efforts on phasing out BPA from the packaging of products for children. Loblaws has not yet set a timeline or committed to a full phase-out of BPA in its products. That Loblaws is looking at alternatives is a step in the right direction. We hope to see the company develop concrete plans for removing BPA from food packaging altogether.

The regulatory picture also remains imperfect: BPA continues to be allowed in food packaging and plastic containers. In 2012, Health Canada concluded that dietary exposure to BPA through food packaging was not expected to pose a health risk to Canadians. However, this assessment relied on testing methods that do not match what’s recommended by the French Agency or conform to other published results.

A 2015 evaluation by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) of BPA reduced the Tolerable Daily Intake of BPA drastically from 0.05 to 0.004 mg/kg of body weight, citing recent evidence of risk and new methodologies. The French government banned BPA in all packaging materials that are in direct contact with food contents. And the European Union has drafted a new regulation to restrict the use of BPA in food contact materials, such as coated metal cans and plastic containers, to reduce Europeans’ exposure to BPA (though it overturned a ban on BPA in export products). It plans a ban on BPA in thermal receipts by 2020.

Taking action

Our report prompted two of the largest food can brands, Campbell's and Del Monte, to announce plans to phase out BPA in their cans. And some brands are already leading the way by eliminating BPA and choosing glass jars or labelling their products as BPA-free.

As a parent, what can you do? Use our handy pocket guide on BPA to help you in your grocery shopping needs. And we invite you to get involved in our efforts to ban BPA in food cans by signing this petition and sharing it on social media. Let’s get this toxic chemical out of all food cans – for the sake of our children’s health and our own!

*Originally published April 25, 2016