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Campbell Soup bows to consumer pressure as it reveals bisphenol A phase out underway

By Rory Harrington , 07-Mar-2012

Campbell Soup Company has confirmed it is in the process phasing out the use of bisphenol A (BPA) in all its can linings over consumer fears about the controversial substance.

The US-based food giant revealed that it was taking the action despite being convinced the chemical was safe but recognized that continued inclusion of BPA in it packaging might damage customers faith in its foods.

Campbell did not provide a timeline but said that replacing the substance had already been completed in some products. The move was not expected to have a cost impact, it added.

BPA is an industrial chemical found in a range of packaging, notably epoxy resins used as protective linings in food and beverage cans.

BPA report and public scrutiny

The announcement comes in the wake of numerous studies and consumer reports on BPA. One by the Breast Cancer Fund (BCF) last year detailed levels of BPA found in canned food – including products made by the company.

The body sent 12 canned food items—two cans of each of six canned meal products marketed to and largely consumed by children— to a Californian laboratory to test for BPA using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GCMS).

Of the foods tested, Campbell products contained the four highest levels of the chemical, with two samples of its Disney Princess Cool Shapes, Shaped Pasta with Chicken in Chicken Broth registering 148 and 80  parts per billion (ppb). The firm’s same product with Toy Story shapes showed levels of 90ppb and 71ppb.

The breast cancer group also began a public campaign to expel BPA from food cans which focussed further attention on companies such as Campbell.

Trust issue, call for transparency

In a recent conference call about its financial results, the firm acknowledged the increased public scrutiny and announced the action despite believing the chemical to be safe.

“However, we recognize that there is some debate over the use of BPA,” said Craig Owens, Campbell senior vice president, CFO and chief administrative officer. “The trust that we've earned from our consumers for over 140 years is paramount to us.”

Owens confirmed the company had been monitoring and working on BPA replacements for “several years”.

“Because of this, we've already started using alternatives to BPA in some of our soup packaging, and we're working to phase out the use of BPA in aligning of all of our canned products. The cost of this effort is not expected to be material," he added.

The company has yet to release details of its BPA alternatives nor when the transition away from the chemical will be complete.

The BCF has called on Campbell to be more transparent on both issues.

“Campbell’s decision to move away from BPA is a victory for consumers, who have been demanding this change. To truly be an industry leader, the company now needs to fully disclose the timeline for the phase-out and the alternatives that will be used,” said Gretchen Lee Salter, the group’s policy manager.

She added: “Consumers aren’t just concerned about BPA. They are becoming increasingly savvy about the chemicals used in their food packaging and are demanding transparency from manufacturers. We want to make sure that any alternatives that are being used are actually safer for consumers, and the best way to ensure that safety is through full disclosure.”

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