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MA Experts Weigh In - Food Companies Receive Low Scores for Toxic Packaging

April 21, 2009

Boston - Twenty major food companies have received low scores from a watchdog group for packaging their products in materials that could be toxic. According to the new scorecard released by the coalition Alliance for a Healthy Tomorrow, all twenty companies surveyed continue to use bisphenol A (BPA) in their packaging, although it has been linked to numerous health problems.

BPA is used most often in the linings of cans and plastic bottles. Laura Vandenberg, a post-doctoral fellow at Tufts University, says pregnant women and infants may be the most vulnerable to its effects.

"Specifically, chemicals can act like hormones and, since we know BPA can act like estrogen in the body, that stirs a lot of concern over its effects on development and reproduction."

Some manufacturers cite the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's claim that current allowable levels of BPA are safe, a decision that has been criticized by some in the scientific community. Erin Boles, associate executive director of the Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalition is also the mother of a 6-month-old. She points out that, while adults can voluntarily limit their BPA exposure by choosing to eat less canned food, options for infants are limited.

"Babies are drinking baby formula several times a day; it's their primary source of nutrition for the first year. And to think that this baby formula may not be safe for my child is really disturbing."

Namasha Schelling, environmental health organizer for the Alliance for a Healthy Tomorrow, explains that companies use BPA in packaging primarily to keep products fresh for longer periods of time, when there are other, safer options.

"The companies are just not doing enough to move towards alternatives - and alternatives exist."

The Alliance for a Healthy Tomorrow is working to persuade the state Department of Health to issue a ban on products that use BPA for children ages 3 and under. Its petition, with 8,000 signatures supporting this measure, sits in Governor Patrick's office. The Alliance is cautiously optimistic that he will support it.

The survey is online, at www.healthytomorrow.org.

Monique Coppola, Public News Service - MA