Natural Foods Merchandiser

Retailers challenged to find BPA alternatives

As states, retailers and even a plastics manufacturer push for the elimination of bisphenol A from baby products, including bottles and sippy cups, natural products manufacturers and retailers face an important decision about the controversial — some say toxic — chemical. Will they lead or follow?

Efforts to phase out or ban products containing BPA are moving swiftly, and consumer health experts say retailers should start pursuing alternatives now.

"[BPA is] so incredibly toxic," said Sonya Lunder, a senior analyst at Environmental Working Group. "There are a lot of alternatives out there, and it would be great to see natural food retailers leading the way."

Some are doing exactly that, despite the added cost. For example, Eden Foods, a natural foods manufacturer, is using a BPA alternative in its canned bean products.

"We were reading reports out of Europe in 1999 and with the concerns and tests, it seemed like the right thing to do would be to stay away from [BPA]," said company spokeswoman Sue Becker. "Putting pure food in a contaminated can doesn't make much sense."

This week, Minnesota became the first state to ban the use of bisphenol A in baby bottles and sippy cups. The ban goes into effect Jan. 1, 2010.

California and Connecticut are not far behind. In all, 24 states have proposed restrictions on BPA. Federal legislation introduced in March would go further, prohibiting the chemical in other kinds of products as well.

But some major retailers, including Walmart and Toys R' Us, are not waiting for a federal mandate. They already have announced plans to stop selling baby products that contain BPA.

Several baby-bottle manufacturers, including Playtex and Gerber, as well as Nalgene, a water-bottle manufacturer, are phasing out products containing the chemical. Sunoco, a petro-chemical manufacturer, has vowed to discontinue the use of BPA in items intended for young children.

BPA is in many hard clear polycarbonate plastics and is used to line cans that contain food. Although in tests on animals the chemical has been associated with a variety of abnormalities, the FDA last year deemed BPA safe. But the agency's decision has come fire as evidence about the potential dangers of BPA continues to mount.

Some studies have shown that BPA appears to accelerate human growth and can increase the likelihood of cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

The FDA has agreed to reconsider its position on BPA.

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