By Sahru Keiser, BCAction Program Associate of Education and Mobilization
The Breast Cancer Fund tested 28 cans of 7 different foods, traditionally used for Thanksgiving, for Bisphenol A (BPA). Cans were purchased from well-known grocery outlets in 4 states (California, Massachusetts, Minnesota and New York) and sent to an independent testing laboratory in San Francisco.
The range of BPA in the 28 cans showed high variability across the four states with no correlation to expiration dates or lot numbers. The highest level of BPA was 221ppb (parts per billion) to undetectable levels. Exposure to concentrations of BPA at 11ppb has been associated with disruptions to in utero brain development. Twelve cans had BPA levels that would expose the average women (144lbs) to these potentially damaging levels. Consuming multiple cans of food with higher levels of BPA could also lead to additional health effects such as abnormalities in breast development, which can increase the risk of developing breast cancer. These exposures are of most concern at critical windows of development especially prenatal and early life exposure.
BPA Health Effects
BPA is an endocrine disrupter that mimics estrogen in our bodies. Exposure to low doses of BPA can increase the risk of breast cancer, prostate cancer and other detrimental health outcomes. BPA alters mammary gland development in rats and mice and has been shown to result in precancerous and mammary tumor development. Recent evidence demonstrates that BPA exposure could reduce the efficacy of chemotherapy and hormonal treatments for breast cancer.
How are we exposed to BPA?: Food Packaging
BPA is a chemical used to make the epoxy-resin linings of metal food cans. Although this seal keeps food safe from bacterial contamination, BPA can leach from the resin into the food. BPA is lipophilic (fat-seeking) and foods with higher fat content usually end up with higher BPA levels. According to the CDC 93% of Americans have detectable levels of BPA in their bodies.
A recent study conducted by the Breast Cancer Fund and Silent Spring Institute showed that food packaging was a major source of exposure to BPA. The study replaced the diet of three families with primarily fresh produce, no canned or foods packaged in plastic. The families BPA levels dropped by 66% and then returned to pre-intervention levels when returned to their regular diet.
In general, families that rely on food that is cheap, longer lasting and more readily available in their neighborhood, such as canned food, tend to be families with lower incomes. Research shows that the highest BPA exposures are from the lowest income communities.
Alternatives to canned Thanksgiving foods
The report provides alternatives to common canned foods used at Thanksgiving including green bean casserole, creamed corn, cranberry sauce, gravy and pumpkin pie.
The report also includes a myths and facts section that touches on why small amount of BPA matter, amounts of BPA in canned food vs. baby and water bottles, the metabolization of BPA, access to BPA-free alternatives, why this issue is important to everyone not just advocacy groups and how canned organic foods can still have high levels of BPA.
Policy and Market Solutions
The Breast Cancer Funds Cans Not Cancer campaign works on convincing manufacturers to replace BPA with safer alternatives. Through consumer pressure (over 50,000 letters sent) some companies have begun to listen and respond. Eden Foods transitioned from BPA liners to an oleoresinous c-enamel liner, while other companies are moving from cans to Tetra Pak cartons that are made of paperboard, low density polyethylene and aluminum foil.
Public policy is also important. The Breast Cancer Fund is supporting federal legislation titled, Ban Poisonous Additives Act, authored by Rep. Edward Markey, which would ban BPA from all food and beverage containers and require the FDA to review food packaging additives. In addition 11 other states concerned about BPA and its harmful effects have begun to enact laws to limit BPA in other consumer products, specifically infant food containers.
To read the full report, click here.
New report on BPA in canned Thanksgiving food
Breast Cancer Action is proud to co-release with the Breast Cancer Fund the most recent report studying Bisphenol A (BPA) in consumer products. The report titled, BPA in Thanksgiving Canned Food, analyzed common canned foods used for Thanksgiving. It finds that almost all of the samples had some level of BPA contamination although in variable amounts.
The report also explains the harmful nature of BPA and its correlation to breast cancer. Breast Cancer Action encourages people to make healthy choices yet we recognize that not everyone has the same access to safe and healthy foods. We need regulatory protections that provide system wide change that is crucial to making safe food a reality for everyone.
BPA and its connection to breast cancer
BPA is an industrial building block of polycarbonate plastic used for baby bottles and plastic water bottles and is also used in the manufacture of epoxy resins which line metal food cans. BPA can leach into, and is a routine contaminant, in canned foods.1 BPA is known to mimic estrogen and, in animal studies, researchers have linked developmental exposure to BPA to abnormalities in breast development which can increase the risk of developing breast cancer.2 In 2009, the Endocrine Society report stated that BPA can interfere with our hormone system even at exquisitely low doses, and this is especially true for children exposed during critical windows of development.3
Low income populations at risk for highest BPA exposure
Low income populations are disproportionately exposed to environmental toxins. Research has uncovered a relationship between household income and BPA exposure, showing that people with the highest BPA exposure are from the lowest income groups.4 BPA has multiple pathways into our lives and our bodies and canned food is one of those ways. Who is this low-income population that gets their main nourishment from canned food especially around the holidays? Children, pregnant women and low-income populations who are primarily from communities of color, are the main recipients of canned food from food drives.5
Food drives, low-income communities and BPA
During the holidays, many people donate to canned food drives to help those in need. When you depend on donated food through food banks and holiday food drives, you have very limited choice in the products you feed to yourself and your family.6 Studies show that if you have the luxury of eating freshly cooked foods, not from cans, the levels of BPA in your body is significantly reduced.7 The executive director of Environmental Defense stated that “If we can just get BPA out of a few key areas in our lives, levels in our bodies will come down very, very quickly.”8
BPA in canned foods is a social justice issue
The Breast Cancer Fund’s Thanksgiving report shows us that canned Thanksgiving food is contaminated with varying rates of BPA. Holiday food drives consist primarily of canned food, the recipients of these drives tend to primarily be African American and Hispanic children who live in food insecure households. We know exposures to BPA that occur during critical windows of development – in utero, childhood, puberty, pregnancy and breastfeeding – are of most concern. A 2007 study showed that meals involving one or more cans of food can cause a pregnant woman to ingest levels of BPA that have been shown to cause health effects in developing fetuses in laboratory animal studies.9
Breast cancer is a complex group of diseases that occurs in an environmentally complex world. There is growing evidence indicating that there is a connection between environmental factors and breast cancer. We are exposed to multiple chemicals sources in the course of our daily lives with poorer communities — both urban and rural — shouldering an unequal share of the burden of exposure to toxic materials.10 We are seeing poorer health outcomes in communities of color such as African American women having a lower incidence of breast cancer but having a 39% higher death rate then white woman. African Americans are also being diagnosed with breast cancer at younger ages.11 Among Hispanic women breast cancer is the number one cause of cancer deaths. We need to follow the precautionary principle of public health and act now rather than waiting for absolute proof to assure that everyone has access to safe food and is protected from harmful chemicals in the environments in which they live. Access to health and safety information must be freely available.
Breast Cancer Action believes strongly in putting public health before private profits and that the prevention of breast cancer begins with eradicating environmental exposures, including in our food, which are causing breast cancer. Breast Cancer Action, along with the Breast Cancer Fund, supports regulatory reform to assure that all communities, including low-income communities, are safe from toxic chemicals in our food and environment. This Thanksgiving season, please join us in sending a letter to your legislator urging them to support the Safe Chemicals Act of 2011. The Safe Chemicals Act will: 1) require that chemicals must be proven safe before entering commerce, 2) assure that basic health and safety information on chemicals be made public, 3) protect communities disproportionally affected by chemicals and 4) encourage the production of new safer chemicals. We all deserve access to food that is safe and free of harmful chemicals.
1 Breast Cancer Fund. What Labels Don’t Tell Us; Getting BPA out of our food and our bodies. (2010).