Here's another reason Coke is not "it" to me: The company that may very well sell more cans of soda than any other company refuses to eliminate bisphenol A from its linings. This decision comes despite the fact that one in four Coca-Cola shareholders (26 percent) voted to ditch BPA.
The rationale, according to Muhtar Kent, chairman and chief executive officer of The Coca-Cola Company? The science just isn't there.
Oh, really? The chemical, which has been used for more than 40 years in plastics and in the epoxy resin linings of most food and beverage cans, has been linked with infertility, weight gain, behavioral changes, early onset puberty, prostate and breast cancers and diabetes. The feds have expressed "concern," especially for the health of infants and children, but have stopped short of a BPA ban.
Many baby bottles are now BPA free, but new research shows that human's first exposure to the chemical may come even earlier. A study presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies' annual meeting in Denver found that babies born to moms with higher BPA levels during pregnancy are more likely to experience wheezing early in life—symptoms that could develop into full-blown asthma.
Despite the U.S. government's slow-moving regulations for BPA, savvy food and beverage manufacturers are phasing out the chemical. A report that came out late last year highlighted companies that have made efforts to go BPA free. In the naturals sector, Hain Celestial (Health Valley, Earth's Best, Westbrae Natural) was given high marks for using BPA-free linings in some products, though certainly not all. The company summarized its timeline as follows:
September 2010: Commercialize BPA-free cans for non-acidic products
First half of 2011: Commercialize Tetra Pak for qualifying existing acidic products
End of 2011: Commercialize acidic products in non-BPA cans, depending on options
In the conventional arena, ConAgra, which owns brands such as Chef Boyardee, Hunt’s and Healthy Choice, and H.J. Heinz also earned As for their BPA-free efforts. Heinz outlined a 5-year plan to eliminate BPA from "adult cans."
What other natural brands are BPA free? Eden Foods has been canning beans without BPA for more than a decade. And Eden recently moved to amber glass for tomatoes and sauces, which as high-acid foods are notoriously difficult to can without a BPA liner. Vital Choice cans its fish with BPA-free liners. And supposedly Trader Joe's uses BPA-free cans for corn, beans, fish, poultry and beef.
What about you? As companies like Coca-Cola continue to bury their heads in the sand on this issue, it could be your golden opportunity to set your company apart and let customers know that you are invested in their health. As the evidence against BPA mounts, your reputation with natural products shoppers is at stake. According to the Green Century report, manufacturer motivations for moving toward BPA-free packaging include consumer concern, precautionary principle (aka, just in case), reputation concern and regulatory changes. And the lack of viable substitutes, as Eden has proven, is increasingly becoming a weak excuse for not going BPA free.
Retailers, you can take steps, too. Ask manufacturers for their timelines for eliminating BPA from their products. And highlight the caring BPA-free companies—and show that you care too—through shelf talkers.