Food and beverages in metal cans and plastic containers are affordable and convenient – and a source of the harmful chemical bisphenol-A or BPA. Metal and plastic food containers are often made or coated with BPA, a known endocrine disruptor and reproductive toxicant that’s also linked to cancer. The chemical leaches into the food and ends up in our bodies, yet there are no restrictions in Canada on the use of BPA in food metal cans or plastic containers.
In contrast, the European Union is taking steps to protect its citizens’ health from BPA. Last month the European Commission released a roadmap outlining several proposed measures that include banning BPA in specific types of (such as plastic and coated metal containers) and all food contact materials in order to reduce Europeans’ exposure to BPA). Part of the plan: new standards for manufacturing food containers (with lower substance migration limits from materials into food).
The E.U. Commission’s roadmap is in part in response to a recent evaluation by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) of BPA. After assessing the risk of BPA, the agency cut 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.
But even this drastic step isn’t enough. According to scientists with the French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety, the new daily limit remains too high and relies heavily on flawed modelling studies (known as Physiologically-Based Pharmacokinetic modelling) that neglect how endocrine-disrupting substances operate at the molecular level. France implemented a ban on the sale of food packaging containing BPA earlier this year.
What’s the situation in Canada? In 2008, the federal government responded to calls from Environmental Defence and citizens concerned about BPA’s negative developmental and reproductive effects by banning the use of BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups. In 2010, BPA was declared toxic, but in 2012, Health Canada concluded that BPA doesn’t pose a health risk to the general population through food sources –the result of a limited and now outdated assessment. Regrettably, no further action has been taken to reduce our exposure to BPA through food sources.
While the Canadian government has idled, new evidence continues to emerge that underscores BPA’s hormone-disrupting properties and that links the chemical to breast and prostate cancer as well as obesity.
It’s clear that we need action now: recent data from the Canadian Health Measures Survey showed that over 90 per cent of Canadian youth and adults already have concerning levels of BPA in their bodies. Babies are especially at risk as BPA is transmitted via the placenta and breast milk. Canadians who don’t have access to or cannot afford fresh produce are also at a disadvantage because they are likely to rely more on canned foods – a significant source of bodily BPA.
Regulatory action has to take into account the emerging evidence of BPA’s and hormone-disruptors’ influence “upstream” (i.e. at the molecular level before the manifestation of health effects) and long-term health outcomes that may result from low exposure levels. Another concern is the uncertainty around how much BPA we are exposed to through non-food sources (like thermal paper cash receipts). That’s why Canada needs to take a prudent step to implement stringent restrictions on BPA’s use in food contact materials to limit Canadians’ exposure to the chemical.
We urge the Canadian government to reassess BPA’s risk based on recent evidence and adopt a precautionary approach in managing this toxic chemical’s risk by banning its use in all food contact materials.
You can speak out, too! Sign our petition and demand an overhaul of Canada’s toxic chemical regulations. For more information on BPA uses and how you can reduce your exposure, check out our handy wallet guide for toxic chemicals.