Chemical Linked to Birth Defects Found at Unsafe Levels in Canned Food

In the most comprehensive U.S. tests for an industrial chemical used to line cans of foods, an independent laboratory found a compound linked to birth defects in more than half of the samples of canned fruit, vegetables, soda, and baby formula from supermarket shelves, according to an Environmental Working Group (EWG) report released today.

Conflict of Interest

A federal agency that evaluates the causes of birth defects and other reproductive problems is run by a consulting firm with ties to companies that make chemicals the agency is charged with reviewing, an EWG investigation found. Chairs of House and Senate Committees investigate. Read more.

The lab tests conducted for EWG found bisphenol A, or BPA, in 55 of 97 cans of food purchased from major supermarket chains in California, Connecticut and Georgia. The lab tested 27 national name brands and three store brands.

The potential for BPA to cause birth defects and reproductive harm is being evaluated today by a federal advisory panel at the Center for Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction (CERHR), a division of the National Institutes of Health. Major concerns have been raised regarding the integrity of CERHR science and conflicts of interest on the part of a Center contractor, Sciences International (SI). SI plays a major management role in CERHR operations while at the same time doing business with a client base that includes manufacturers of chemicals under review by the Center, including BPA.

BPA is an ingredient in plastics and the epoxy resins that line food cans. Low doses of BPA lead to a range of health problems, including birth defects of the male and female reproductive systems in laboratory animals. Despite the growing evidence of risk to human health, there are no limits on the amount of BPA allowed in canned food.

The tests found that pregnant women and infants who eat even a single serving of some canned foods are exposed to unsafe doses of BPA. Of the foods tested—which included many of the canned foods eaten most often by women of childbearing age—BPA levels were highest in canned pasta and soup. Canned infant formula also had high levels. Just one to three servings of food with these BPA levels could expose a pregnant woman or infant to harmful doses of the chemical.

"BPA reads like a case study of how badly our chemical safety system is broken," said Jane Houlihan, vice president for research at EWG. "We've known it's toxic for 75 years, it's polluting the bodies of almost all Americans, but we allow it in our food at levels that leave no margin of safety for pregnant women and young children."

Scientists have detected BPA in breast milk, serum, saliva, urine, amniotic fluid, and cord blood from at least 2,200 people in Europe, North America, and Asia. Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently detected BPA in 95% of nearly 400 U.S. adults and children.

The last comprehensive review of low dose studies found that the overwhelming majority of peer-reviewed studies—94 of 115—of have confirmed BPA's toxicity at low levels of exposure. Few chemicals have been found to consistently display such a diverse range of harm at such low doses.


The Environmental Working Group and Environmental Working Group Action Fund are nonprofits that use the power of information to protect public health and the environment.

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