Some canned foods could vanish from supermarket shelves if any future deadline by lawmakers to ban bisphenol A (BPA) outstripped the pace of research to find replacements, said the North American Metal Packaging Alliance (NAMPA).
Trade body chairman Dr John Rost issued the warning as he declared the only way to ensure public confidence in new materials was through the lengthy route of testing and research followed by regulatory approval. He urged that any legislative deadlines must take this into account.
In an exclusive interview with FoodProductionDaily.com earlier this month, he said a large number of initiatives had been launched to find BPA substitutes in metal packaging but that bringing alternatives to market remained “years away”.
“Legislative changes that fail to take that process into account may lead to some canned foods for which alternatives are not yet approved no longer being available,” said the NAMPA chief. “That unintended consequence would result from an arbitrary legislative mandate that is not justified by the science and fails to recognize the manufacturing realities of today's market.”
However, campaigners calling for a BPA ban have previously dismissed such warnings as scare tactics. A proposal to ban the chemical in baby bottles in California in 2009 spawned a fierce campaign which saw industry-sponsored newspaper advertisements and mail-shots showing pictures of empty shopping carts saying ‘Your favourite products may soon disappear’.
There was no suggestion of any involvement by NAMPA in this. However, Dr Rost’s warning echoes the sentiment behind these adverts and he has criticised moves by some politicians to outlaw the substance despite what he said was “overwhelming scientific support for the safety of BPA in metal packaging”.
So far bans on use of the chemical in food packaging have been confined to polycarbonate baby bottles and sippy cups for children – with Canada, the European Union and a number of US states all passing laws prohibiting its use for these applications.
But there is concern among food packaging players that the ban on the chemical could spread to other materials – particularly as a bill that would bar its use is currently being reviewed by US Congress. This would veto BPA in food and beverage containers that are composed, “in whole or in part,” of the substance or can release it into food contents. The ban would be effective for reusable containers 180 days after enactment, with 180 days or more for other food containers.
The legislation stipulates that waivers may be granted where no technologically feasible alternative to replace BPA in a certain product or package exists, or if an alternative package cannot be used for the product. The waiver will not last for more than one year and requires that all packages be clearly labelled as containing BPA, said the body. The legislation remains in the Republican-controlled Energy Committee but Dr Rost told NAMPA members earlier this year “the food fight continues”.
No food safety compromise
Summing up the frustrations of many in the metal packaging sector, he told FoodProductionDaily.com that despite the backing of regulatory bodies across the globe that BPA was safe, “elected officials in many jurisdictions have chosen to pursue a legislative solution to allay consumer concern”
Such consumer concern was the spur behind industry efforts to develop substitutes, said Dr Rost - but he stressed it was vital that BPA alternatives provide the same level of safety and performance.
“We will continue to pursue that end, but we will not compromise food safety in the process, regardless of legislative mandate,” he said.