Earlier this month, EWG president Ken Cook wrote the Coca-Cola company to ask why a Coca-Cola representative had been part of a lobbyists’ strategy session during which, according to a leaked memo, food and chemical industry reps discussed countering proposed bans on the toxic plastics chemical bisphenol (BPA) with “fear tactics,” among them, warning consumers that no BPA in food packaging would mean no baby food.
“Is this the kind of ‘marketing’ effort that Coca-Cola stands behind when it comes to toxic chemicals that contaminate the food supply?” Cook asked.
Seemed like a simple question at the time. So what’s Coca-Cola’s answer?
None, so far. EWG hasn’t received a response. Nor has Coca-Cola chairman and chief executive officer Muhtar Kent commented to reporters.
However, if you dig deep into the “citizenship” pages of the Coca-Cola corporate website, you’ll find an adamant defense of BPA, a component of epoxy resin used to line food and beverage cans and also a synthetic estrogen that disrupts the endocrine system:
BPA is used to make the linings of two- and three-piece cans to prevent spoilage and protect foods and beverages from direct contact with the can. However, both polycarbonate plastics and the epoxy resins used in food and beverage containers continue to be authorized by the FDA, the European Food Safety Authority, and the Japanese and German governments as safe for use in contact with foods or beverages.
While BPA is used in the production process for making the lining of some aluminum cans, finished sparkling beverage cans have not been found to contain any BPA when tested by the FDA. Additionally, independent studies in New Zealand and the United Kingdom have not detected BPA in sparkling beverages. The beverage packaging produced by Coca-Cola does not pose a public health risk– including any alleged risks associated with BPA.
Coca-Cola has selected its facts carefully. Let’s take a look at a few more facts:
The Canadian tests showed contamination levels in Coca-Cola products to be extremely low, a small fraction of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) “safe” level of 50 μg/L. (Canada’s “safe” level is 25 μg/L.)
But they’re not zero.
Whether any exposure to BPA and other endocrine disruptors can be called safe is a matter of heated debate as more research reports implicate endocrine-disrupting chemicals in a host of serious health problems. Dozens of highly regarded government and academic researchers contend that EPA’s level has been overtaken by events and should be revised or junked.
Industry officials disagree. For instance, the North American Metal Packaging Alliance says that BPA-laden epoxy can lining “serves a critical function by preventing a myriad of contaminants from penetrating into the food, affording longer shelf life and significant nutrition, convenience, and economy.” NAMPA, by the way, was identified in the leaked industry document as a key organizer of the strategy session at Washington’s elite Cosmos Club, at which lobbyists from Coca-Cola, DelMonte, Crown, Alcoa and the chemical and food processing industries discussed hiring a “pregnant young mother who would be willing to speak around the country about the benefits of BPA.”
Contrast the industry’s cynical tone with the Endocrine Society’s sober assessment that “even infinitesimally low levels of exposure [to endocrine-disrupting chemicals] —indeed, any level of exposure at all—may cause endocrine or reproductive abnormalities, particularly if exposure occurs during a critical developmental window.”
So why hasn’t Coca-Cola responded more fulsomely to questions about its marketing and lobbying tactics? We have no idea. We can only speculate that the company may be following those unwritten rules of public life:
Good luck with that. But this subject – industrial toxins in food, water and consumer products – isn’t going away.