Smart discussion about toxics policy reform

Coca-Cola’s Non-Answer on BPA

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 federal Food and Drug Administration is reconsidering its position, adopted under the Bush White House, that BPA contamination of food and beverages does not pose health risks to people, even children. In early June, Margaret Hamburg, the new head of the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA), assigned the agency’s chief scientist to take a “fresh look” at the BPA issue, to be completed, according to her spokesman, in “weeks not months.”
  • Major Japanese food processors voluntarily adopted low or non-BPA canned food linings as early as 1998, without waiting for legislation, because of consumer alarm over scientific findings that many young Japanese had elevated BPA blood levels, attributed to leaching from cans of hot tea and coffee served by   vending machines.
  • The U.S. government’s National Toxicology Program and dozens of independent   scientists in the U.S. and abroad have expressed concern about the effects of BPA on human brain and reproductive system development and behavior.
  • Last week, the Endocrine Society, numbering 14,000 researchers and medical experts in 100 countries, issued an unprecedented “scientific statement,” warning that BPA and other endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) “have effects on male and female reproduction, breast development and cancer, prostate cancer, neuroendocrinology, thyroid, metabolism and obesity, and cardiovascular endocrinology.”
  • Last March researchers with the Canadian government agency Health Canada found BPA in 85 percent of  72 soft drinks sold in Canadian stores. All  Coca-Cola products tested positive for BPA, among them Coca-Cola, .18 μg/L (micrograms per liter); Diet Coke, .35 μg/L; grapefruit-flavored Fresca,  1.1 μg/L; cherry-citrus Fresca, .75 μg/L Tab, .18 μg/L; Sprite, .17 μg/L, and Full Throttle energy drink, .60 μg/L.

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:

  • If you’re in a hole, stop digging.
  • If your explanation won’t fit on a bumper sticker, it won’t fly.
  • If you’re in a tight spot, keep quiet until somebody changes the subject.

Good luck with that.  But this subject – industrial toxins in food, water and consumer products – isn’t going away.

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9 Responses to “Coca-Cola’s Non-Answer on BPA”

  1. Tracy W. says:

    So this raises a question for those of us who enjoy drinking soft drinks. Is it safer to drink soft drinks from cans or from bottles? Or is it impossible to determine?

    • Elaine Shannon says:

      Tracy and other readers — Thanks much for reading and taking the time to comment. We at EWG don’t think we can shop our way out of the BPA problem. Cans definitely have linings made with BPA. Hard polycarbonate drink bottles also have BPA. I see from Coca-Cola’s website that the company is introducing a new type of bottle that is supposed to have higher non-petrochemical content. But I don’t know much about the plastic. We’d like to see cans lined with alternative products that have been extensively tested by independent laboratories and found to be safe, especially for the fetus and infants, whose systems are still developing. For myself, I dropped my bottled water service because the large jugs were made with polycarbonate and installed a reverse osmosis filter on our tap water system. My son and husband got steel bottles in their Christmas stockings. I like soft drinks too, especially Coke. But I drink a lot of homemade iced tea and lemonade these days. Elaine Shannon

  2. Kathy says:

    My husband recently sat next to a Coca Cola executive on an airplane. He told him we don’t drink coke due to the cans containing BPA. The exec said nothing but looked a bit displeased!

    I’m looking forward to hearing what they have to say on the matter if they ever make a statement!

  3. Karen Moody says:

    Yet another company I must boycott. I have been loosely avoiding their products for years but will now be more agressive with actually boycotting Coca Cola and all their family companies.

  4. Tanea Stephens says:

    Reading through the blog, and particularly this post, reminds me of the common response I hear from people who are older than 30 whenever I talk about the harmful toxicity exposure for children….75% of the time people respond by saying “we grew up with Johnson’s & Johnson’s, BPA toys and chemical flame retardants and we’re fine so I don’t see why we need to overreact by avoiding affordable, convenient products for children.” Does EWG have a talking point to combat such skepticism? Surely the lack of long-term scientific evidence that proves harmful effects of chemicals on our bodies is one of the roadblocks to changing legislation and ultimately, consumer behavior.

  5. Thanks for this follow up. I was wondering where this whole thing stood, and what sort of response there was from Coke. I’m encouraging people not to buy Coke products at my blog, Non-Toxic Kids, until this is sorted out.

    Thanks for this new blog, I will read it often.


  6. Jennifer says:

    I just emailed Coca-Cola with a new product idea…going green! I asked how they slept at night…oh yeah, on a bed of money I reminded myself. I stated they need to be more responsible for their customers well being and the environment too.

    They are evil and I hate their products but many people love their stuff…it is important they, and all other large companies, start doing whats right for their customers health instead of always worrying about money.

    What a sad America we live in!

  7. Jennifer says:

    Hey, yesterday I posted letting you all know that I contacted Coca-Cola. Well, you are not gonna believe their response. The first response is in regards to how they treat the environment and the second is in regards to BPA and that there is no research to support it is unsafe!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! WTF!!! I almost fell over! Its so safe states are banning it????

    Thank you for your recent email message, We welcome the opportunity to respond. We believe that a sustainable business plan and a sustainable environment go hand in hand. Our business depends on the health and sustainability of our planet and the natural resources that we all share. When we align the factors that drive our business with the areas where we have the greatest impact on the planet, it takes us directly—and logically—to three major targets for our investment of time, talent and resources: water stewardship, sustainable packaging, and energy management and climate protection. Beverage containers are among the world’s most recycled consumer product packaging.To increase recovery and recycling rates, The Coca-Cola Company designs packages that retain economic value and utility after the beverages they contain are consumed.To ensure that this value is realized in the marketplace,
    the Coca-Cola system provides financial assistance and other support for recovery and collection systems around the world.We also work closely with community organizations that promote recycling and litter abatement.The Coca-Cola Company is a member of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition.In partnership with the National Recycling Coalition, we underwrite a twice-yearly bin grant program in the United States. Read about it here stewardship leads the list of our sustainability efforts. In 2007, we announced our aspirational goal to return to communities and nature an amount of water equal to what we use in our beverages and their production. We are moving toward our goal with three objectives: to reduce the amount of water used to produce our beverages, to recycle water used in our manufacturing processes so it can be
    returned safely to the environment and to replenish water in communities and nature through a global network of local partnerships and projects.Our sustainable packaging vision is zero waste.To realize this zero waste vision, we are guided by a commitment to continuous improvement.We are advancing packaging initiatives focused on three goals: to design consumer-preferred packages that use the least amount of resources while maintaining product quality; to build packaging management systems to collect post-consumer packaging; and to use post-consumer packaging and packaging materials again to deliver sustainable value. Our energy management and climate protection goal is to use the best possible mix of energy sources while improving the energy efficiency of our manufacturing and distribution processes.We are focused where we have the biggest climate protection opportunity: improving the efficiency of our coolers,
    vending machines and fountain equipment, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions produced by this equipment; improving our energy efficiency and productivity and reducing manufacturing emissions; and managing our distribution fleet to incorporate more fuel-efficient modes of product delivery.To learn more about our long term goals, visit you have additional questions or comments to share, please feel free to contact us again.GregIndustry and Consumer AffairsThe Coca-Cola Company

    Ok, and here is the other comment in regards to BPA. If the owner would like a copy of this email please email me and I can forward. At the end I provided the email address of the person who sent me these messages…Greg.

    Thank you for contacting us again, Jennifer.

    BPA is a chemical used worldwide in thousands of packages in the marketplace, including the coating inside virtually all metal food and beverage cans. This coating guards against contamination and extends the shelf life of foods and beverages. It also is used to manufacture shatter-resistant bottles, medical devices, sports safety equipment and compact disc covers.

    BPA has been studied extensively and determined to be safe by regulatory authorities worldwide. The safety of this ingredient is supported by comprehensive laboratory research, including studies conducted over multiple generations that are specifically designed to detect adverse health effects, even at very low doses Health authorities around the world have confirmed that canned foods and beverages are safe.

    Our cans have a very thin film of epoxy coating. The heat involved in the curing process incorporates BPA into the structure of the polymer lining making it unavailable for migration into the can.

    BPA is not contained in the plastic bottles used by our industry. The beverage industry uses PET (polyethylene terephthalate), not polycarbonate, to make our industry’s containers.

    The Coca-Cola Company has extensive requirements that ensure that our products meet our own rigorous standards. Our top priority is to ensure the safety and quality of our products and packaging through rigorous standards that meet or exceed government requirements, and ongoing testing.

    We hope this information is helpful. Please contact us again if you have any further questions.

    Greg – [email protected]
    Industry and Consumer Affairs
    The Coca-Cola Company

    • Elaine Shannon says:

      Thanks for letting us know, Jennifer. As you’ve noted, many states and municipalities are considering partial bans on BPA — not for most uses, like computer and cell phone casings, hard hats, safety goggles, washing machine and automobile paint — but for baby bottles, sippy cups and a few other items used for babies and toddlers. The reason policy makers are moving on BPA is the proliferation of scientific tests that shows that BPA is unusually dangerous to the developing embryo and infant. I’ll have an important report Mnday on a new scientific study by top scientists who are studying the chemical’s impact on reproduction. Watch this space. Elaine Shannon