Consumer Reports finds traces of BPA in Vital Choice tuna, but admits BPA isn't used in our kind of cans; new EPA study eases some BPA fears
by Craig Weatherby and Randy Hartnell
After striving to replace all of our fish cans with BPA-free alternatives, we were dismayed to see a press release today from Consumer Reports magazine.
Consumer Reports claims that their tests of three sample cans detected traces of the common packaging chemical in our canned Albacore Tuna.
Bisphenol-A or BPA is a chemical used to make the epoxy resins that line most food cans... and very few companies have even tried to use packaging free of BPA, with Vital Choice being among the very first.
- Consumer Reports found traces of BPA in most canned goods tested for its December, 2009 issue.
- Our canned albacore tuna showed traces of BPA, even though our suppliers affirm that our current cans are BPA-free... we will test the linings to confirm those pledges.
- Consumer Reports admits that the tuna they tested came from Vital Choice cans with linings that do NOT normally contain BPA.
- We are probing the reasons for this odd test outcome, and await information from Consumer Reports concerning the lot number(s) of the cans they tested… their findings would make sense if the tuna came from older cans sold before the BPA-free switch.
- Chemists we've consulted say our tuna could have been exposed to traces of BPA at various points in the canning process because BPA is widely used in such facilities.
Our policy is to err on the side of caution, which is why we offer only low-mercury seafood, despite compelling research showing that fears about mercury in ocean fish have been greatly exaggerated and based on very weak evidence.
So when research published in 2007 indicated that BPA might pose greater health risks than previously believed, we acted quickly to start the lengthy process of switching to BPA-free cans.
And we immediately began insisting our canned fish suppliers switch to cans with BPA-free linings. Since the fall of 2008, we’ve been assured by our suppliers that the cans they used for our products no longer contained any BPA.
What Consumer Reports' tests showed
Consumer Reports say that their tests found an average of 20 parts per billion (ppb) of BPA in Vital Choice tuna after testing three cans.
We are very surprised by the test result, because we demanded BPA-free cans from our suppliers more than a year ago... and these reputable companies pledged that they had switched our cans as requested.
Consumer Reports’ finding is odd, as they admitted in their press release: “…tests of the inside of the [Vital Choice tuna] cans found that the liners were not epoxy-based, suggesting BPA was not used…” (CR 2009).
Dr. Urvashi Rangan, director of technical policy at Consumers Union (publisher of Consumer Reports), told The Los Angeles Times that the BPA may have leached into Vital Choice tuna cans at the factory where they were made, or may have come from environmental sources
—seawater or the fish itself.
We are scrutinizing every step of our process, from catch to shipment, to find out how BPA may have entered a product that could not be expected to contain it, packed in cans certified to be free of it. (As far as we can determine, BPA is not found in ocean fish or seawater at levels high enough to account for Consumer Reports' test results.)
From the day we started Vital Choice, it has been our mission to provide the healthiest, purest foods for our customers, employees, friends, and family members, including our own children, grandchildren, and parents.
We were among the first companies to tackle the issue of BPA head-on, and we’ve worked hard (and gone to great expense) to eliminate it from our packaging. We were sure we had.
So we are as shocked as our customers at the test results reported by Consumers Union, and we will not rest until we have discovered the cause of this issue and rectified it.
Fortunately, the BPA concentrations Consumer Reports say they found in our tuna are less than half the 50 ppb level currently deemed safe for daily consumption by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA 1993).
We don't regret our pioneering switch to cans made without BPA, even though a new EPA study indicates that some of the recently heightened fears about BPA may be exaggerated (Ryan BC et al. 2009).
The concerns over BPA: New EPA findings may ease estrogen-mimic fears
Tests in animals suggest possible health risks from BPA intake at levels that commonly occur in people who eat lots of products packaged with BPA-containing plastics, with recent studies seeming to find possible risks at intake levels lower than previously thought.
However, various health authorities have come to widely divergent conclusions with regard to the potential dangers of BPA.
Japan banned BPA 10 years ago, but last year, the European Union Food Safety Authority reaffirmed its earlier decisions that BPA is safe for food packaging (including foods consumed by pregnant women and babies) when used under current regulations, and the U.S. and Canadian positions are close to the Europeans' stance (EFSA 2009; EPA 1993).
And as NPR reported on October 30, the results of recently published research by U.S. EPA scientists ease fears that BPA might mimic the effects of estrogen in the bodies of young, growing people (see “BPA Safer Than Contraceptives In Rat Study”).
A fact checking group called the Statistical Assessment Service (STATS), based at George Mason University, has issued a detailed critique of key statements made in the Consumer Reports article about the risks of BPA, titled “Consumer Reports BPA study filled with factual errors.”
Since we are not experts in the complex fields of toxicology and biostatistics, we cannot mediate the dispute between STATS and Consumer Reports concerning the details and meaning of the available research into BPA.
What federal experts thought about the risks of BPA... before the new EPA study
Scientists at the U.S. National Toxicology Program (NTP) posted this chart at Q & A about Bisphenol A, to summarize that agency's position on BPA safety.
However, these positions were taken prior to publication of the new EPA finding that BPA probably does not mimic estrogen in people's bodies (Ryan BC et al. 2009), which might cause the NTP scientists to reclassify (downgrade) the potential risks of BPA.
Possible explanations for the finding of BPA traces in our canned tuna
We see three possible explanations for Consumer Reports’ findings:
Consumer Reports emphasized the 3rd possibility on their blog:
- The sample cans used by Consumer Reports pre-dated our canner’s switch to BPA-free liners.
- Our tuna canner was using cans with BPA, despite their assurances. We will test our current cans to double check.
- The BPA they found did not come from the can lining. Chemists we consulted say our tuna could have been exposed to traces of BPA at various points in the canning process because BPA is widely used in such facilities.
“The fact that the Eden Baked Beans we tested still had any measurable amounts of BPA—even though our tests confirmed the cans did not have epoxy-based linings—suggests that food can have multiple sources of exposure. BPA is now one of the highest-volume chemicals in the world, with more than 100 tons released into the atmosphere per year. Various studies have found BPA in dust and water samples from around the world” (CRB 2009).
Indeed, BPA is used on the carbonless copy papers now used for most credit card receipts, and the thermal imaging papers that are spit out by most modern cash registers.
John C. Warner, an organic chemist who co-founded the Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry, recently found BPA on many cash register receipts… at levels far higher than those found in canned foods (DG 2009).
We are determined to discover which of these explanations is true, and will let you know as soon as we do.
What we are doing
We are in the process of contacting the companies that supply our canned salmon, tuna, sardines, and mackerel, to request confirmation of their assurances that our cans contain no BPA.
On Monday, November 2, we received written reassurance from the supplier who provides most of our canned salmon, and we expect responses from the rest soon.
We've also communicated with the scientist at Consumer Reports who led the study, to obtain the test data and to be sure they did not test tuna from cans obtained before the BPA-free switch was made.
What you should do
Don’t panic, and don’t toss your cans of Vital Choice tuna.
Even if the test results from Consumer Reports prove accurate, the BPA levels they found fall well below the EPA limit, and as such, they would pose no credible risk to people who consume our tuna over the next several months.
And certainly, few alternatives are as healthful or pure as our small, low mercury albacore, which contains many times the omega-3 fats found in typical store-bought brands.
And to our knowledge, no other brand of canned tuna has even attempted to enforce a BPA-free can policy.
What about pregnant women?
EU authorities find no credible risk to a fetus from a mother’s intake of trace amounts of BPA, as they said in their 2008 reassessment:
“The Panel concluded that the exposure of the human fetus to BPA would be negligible because the mother rapidly metabolizes and eliminates BPA from her body. The scientists also concluded that newborns are similarly able to metabolize and eliminate BPA at doses below 1 milligram per kilogram of body weight per day.” (EFSA 2008)
Nonetheless, we would support any pregnant woman’s decision to avoid our tuna until this matter is resolved.
In that case, they should also avoid the vast majority of canned foods, whose liners almost certainly contain BPA.
- Butterworth T. Statistical Assessment Service (STATS). Consumer Reports BPA study filled with factual errors. November 2, 2009. Accessed at http://www.stats.org
- Consumer Reports (CR). Tests Find Wide Range of Bisphenol A in Canned Soups, Juice, and More. Accessed at http://www.prnewswire.com
- Consumer Reports Blog (CRB). Testing for BPA: Concern over canned foods. Accessed at http://blogs.consumerreports.org
- European Food Safety Agency (EFSA). EFSA updates advice on Bisphenol. Accessed at http://www.efsa.europa.eu
- Ryan BC, Hotchkiss AK, Crofton KM, Gray LE Jr. In Utero and Lactational Exposure to Bisphenol A, in contrast to Ethinyl Estradiol, Does not Alter Sexually Dimorphic Behavior, Puberty, Fertility and Anatomy of Female LE Rats. Toxicol Sci. 2009 Oct 28. [Epub ahead of print]
- The Daily Green (DG). Forget Plastic? Sales Receipts Could Be the Main Source of Exposure to Bisphenol A. Accessed at http://www.thedailygreen.com
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Bisphenol A (CASRN 80-05-7); 1993. Accessed at http://www.epa.gov/iris/subst/0356.htm