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Groups Call For Maine Grocers to Eliminate BPA in Food Packaging

Patty Wight
Emma Halas O'Connor (seated, far left) of the Environmental Health Strategy Center and supporters at a press event Wednesday in Portland to urge Maine supermarket chains to phase out cans lined with BPA.

Health advocates are asking grocery store chains Shaw’s and Hannaford to stop carrying food products packaged in containers that contain the hormone-disrupting chemical BPA. They say eliminating it from the linings in canned food would go a long way toward protecting public health.

There’s power in being a part of a large grocery store chain. That’s why Emma Halas O’Connor of the Environmental Health Strategy Center wants Hannaford and Shaw’s to leverage their market power to eliminate BPA from food packaging.

“We are asking them to come to the table with us and carry a strong message to their national parent companies to say that it’s time to develop a chemical policy to make sure that their food products are packaged without any unsafe chemicals,” she says.

This latest move to reduce exposure to BPA follows a series of steps that have phased out the chemical from other products sold in Maine.

It started when BPA was listed as a priority chemical under Maine’s Kid Safe Products Act in 2008. A few years later, the Legislature banned BPA from reusable food packaging. Then, in 2013, state lawmakers banned BPA from baby food and infant formula packaging.

Tracy Gregoire of the Learning Disabilities Association of Maine says it’s time to go a step further.

“All kids graduate from eating baby food to toddler and adult food, and we need to make sure that kids are safe from BPA and other types of canned food, whether it’s tomato sauce, beans, chicken soup or their favorite SpaghettiOs,” she says.

The push to get grocery stores involved follows the release of a report in March called “Buyer Beware.” Several national nonprofit health and environmental organizations tested the lining and lids of nearly 200 canned foods, and they found that two-thirds contained BPA.

Retired Maine family physician Dr. Jeff Saffer says children are particularly vulnerable to the chemical.

“BPA is a powerful hormone disrupter that can harm the developing fetus and can cause breast and prostate cancer, diabetes, learning disabilities, behavior problems and reproductive damage,” he says.

Shaw’s did not respond to a request for comment, and Hannaford directed questions to the Maine Grocers and Food Producers Association.

“We believe that healthy and safety issues regarding food packaging are best legislated on the national level,” says Shelley Doak, executive director of the association, adding that product safety and consumer confidence are a top priority, but, “Maine can’t be an outlier. We’re part of a regional economy, a national economy.”

Doak says even though some association members want to move to an alternative to BPA, currently there’s no known safe alternative. That’s something the Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Maine agrees with.

But the group’s hope is that, along with phasing out BPA, grocery stores will push food companies to develop safer alternatives.