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Watchdog Groups Condemn CalEPA Proposal on BPA in Food

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Oakland, CA-Organizations from across California, including the Just Transition Alliance/Campaign for Healthier Solutions, Black Women for Wellness, Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles, and the Center for Environmental Health (CEH) expressed alarm today over a California EPA (CalEPA) proposal for an “emergency” change that, if adopted, would allow canned food and beverage companies to withhold information about a toxic chemical in their products from all California consumers. The chemical bisphenol A (BPA) is known to cause serious reproductive health problems, yet under the proposed rule, CalEPA would allow companies to evade state regulations that require companies to warn consumers when canned food and beverages contain this harmful chemical.

The proposal by CalEPA, released late last week with virtually no notice and no public input, would allow food companies to meet state warning rules under Proposition 65 by placing a small sign at cash registers, instead of warnings on specific food products. The agency claims that the rule is necessary because the usual warnings may cause some low-income people in food deserts to avoid canned fruits and vegetables, the only source of nutritious food for some low-income communities.

Yet CalEPA provided no evidence that warnings would have this effect, or that the proposal would provide low-income groups with a safer alternative. The agency also provided no evidence that it consulted with any low-income groups in developing its proposal. Studies have shown that BPA exposure is higher among low-income groups (1).

“We strongly resent CalEPA’s suggestion that we need to be protected from the truth about what is in our food,” said Jose Bravo of the Just Transition Alliance/Campaign for Healthier Solutions, a statewide a coalition of environmental justice and labor organizations. “The agency’s proposal deliberately and knowingly excludes our communities from protection under the law. We strongly urge the agency to withdraw the proposal and listen to our communities’ real concerns, not the food industry’s baseless arguments about what they think is best for us.”

Last year, state scientists from CalEPA unanimously voted to add BPA to the state’s Prop 65 list of chemicals known to cause serious reproductive harm. Food companies had a one-year grace period during which they could plan for complying with the state’s warning rules under Prop 65. Many canned food makers have eliminated the use of BPA-containing linings from their cans. Food and beverage companies that still use BPA linings can comply with Prop 65 by warning consumers, usually with product labels, that the product contains BPA.

“Our organization has worked hard to win protections for our community from BPA, yet this proposal takes a giant step backwards by leaving us vulnerable to this toxic chemical in canned food,” said Janette Robinson Flint, Executive Director of Black Women for Wellness, a Los Angeles-based organization that previously co-sponsored successful state legislation to eliminate BPA from sippy cups and baby bottles. “Studies have shown that Black women are already disproportionately affected by BPA, and this proposal undermines a rule that could lead to safer products made without this toxic chemical. CalEPA needs to hear our voices and rescind this ill-advised proposal.”

Despite the findings of its own scientists, the CalEPA proposal would allow food makers to continue to sell BPA-tainted canned food and beverages without labels. Instead, food retailers would be allowed to post a 5 square inch sign at the cash register that gives no information on specific products or even tell consumers whether the products contain or do not contain BPA. Further, the sign would provide unclear, misleading and inaccurate information, despite the Prop 65 requirement that labels be “clear and reasonable.” If adopted, the CalEPA proposal could erode state rules that Californians have relied on to protect their children and families for 30 years.

“The science on the serious health effects of BPA is clear, yet this proposal would cripple vital protections all Californians and especially low-income people urgently need to protect their health,” said Martha Dina Argüello, Executive Director of Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles and a member of the California Air Resources Board (CARB) Environmental Justice Advisory Committee. “CalEPA needs to immediately withdraw this proposal, consult with the affected communities, and develop a solution that creates real alternatives for safer food, not loopholes for the food industry.”

CEH legal action under Prop 65 has won major victories in protecting Californians from toxic chemicals for nearly 20 years. “Californians expect the state to protect our right to know about BPA in our food, yet this proposal would continue to keep us in the dark about this dangerous chemical,” said Michael Green, Executive Director of CEH. “The agency must withdraw this dangerous proposal and give all California consumers the information they need to buy safer food for their families.”



(1) LaKind, Judy S., Naiman, Daniel Q. “Daily Intake of Bisphenol A and Potential Sources of Exposure: 2005-2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology, DOI 10.1038/jes.2010.9; and Calafat, Antonia M., Ye, Xiaoyun, Wong, Lee-Yang, Reidy, John A., and Needham, Larry L. “Exposure of the U.S. Population to Bisphenol A and 4-tertiary-Octylphenol: 2003-2004. Environmental Health Perspectives. Jan. 2008 116 (1): 39-44.