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Food safety: Should canned foods come with a warning label?

March 31, 2011 |  8:00 am

Canned Foods Although smokers may not like reading the warning labels on cigarettes, at least they know that they're consuming a product that comes with health risks. Should consumers of canned goods also get the benefit of a warning label? Most might not realize that their canned food has been bathing in BPA, a chemical linked to breast and prostate cancer, as well as infertility, early puberty in girls, obesity and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. (A recent study found Del Monte Fresh Cut Green Beans to be the worst offender.)

Those in the food industry argue that they follow food-safety regulations and that there really aren't cost-effective substitutes to cans.

And maybe BPA isn't as bad as it seems. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's website, "Finding a measurable amount of BPA in the urine does not mean that the levels of BPA cause an adverse health effect." It says "more research is needed to understand the human health effects of exposure to BPA."

Jon Entine, author of "Scared to Death: How Chemophobia Threatens Public Health," adds to the conversation, saying that the public ought not to be fueled by anxiety created by advocacy groups and "the breathless media":  

It's critical to examine the consequences of banning a particular chemical. Among its myriad uses, BPA can be found in can liners that increase the shelf life of food and prevent botulism, which is a genuine health threat. There are no effective substitutes. Ban BPA and people are likely to die. …

Tofu is more estrogenic than BPA. …

[S]cientists must remain open to new evidence. We are developing sophisticated tools to evaluate exposure to chemicals, including examining their impacts on genes and hormonal system. If the weight of evidence shifts, we have to be prepared to tighten regulations.

This is reassuring, especially considering that BPA is in plastic bottles, on receipts, even on money. Still, I'm in favor of warning labels on cans so that consumers can make informed decisions.

If you're among those who are nervous about long-lasting harms caused by BPA in canned food, Los Angeles Times reporter Susan Carpenter has good news over on our environment blog, Greenspace ("Want to reduce BPA exposure?").

-- Alexandra Le Tellier

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