Sponsored By
Clare Goldsberry

April 6, 2016

5 Min Read
War on BPA: Recent campaign is not the first go-round for Campbell Soup Co.

The non-profit group Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families (SC, HF; Washington, DC) has once again gone after a large corporation, Campbell Soup Co., over the polymer linings in its soup cans that the group’s study has shown contains BPA. Two days before SC, HF was going to break the news about Campbell soup cans containing polymer linings that tested positive for BPA, Campbell came out with a release saying that it would replace its liners with BPA-free polymers.

The odd thing is that this is the second go-round for Campbell on this issue. While researching the latest public relations blast from SC, HF to hit PlasticsToday’s inbox, I discovered an excellent article in the Sept. 18, 2012, issue of Forbes magazine. It was written by contributor Jon Entine, a self-described skeptic who writes about science, public policy, media and NGOs. His article reveals “what happens when ideology corrupts science.”

It seems that in March 2012, Campbell had announced that it was discontinuing the use of epoxy can liners containing BPA, marking “what appeared to be a dramatic change in its policy about its use of bisphenol A . . . targeted as Public Enemy No. 1 by anti-chemical campaigners,” wrote Entine. “Just about every food processor uses these can liners, which “protect against spoiling and pose no danger at the minute levels used in cans,” according to regulators around the world. However, pointed out Entine, “many activist groups portray it as a ‘child killer.’”

The March 5, 2012, statement appeared to be from Campbell, but was actually released by Breast Cancer Fund and Healthy Children Healthy World (HCHW), “which had led a six-month campaign targeting Campbell as the ‘most vulnerable’ among the major canned good companies and, therefore, most likely to capitulate,” wrote Entine. These groups “sent more than 70,000 letters, many accusing Campbell of poisoning children.”

The media—being the media—jumped on this headline-making release, which was obviously sent to force Campbell’s hand in the matter. Articles ran quoting Rachel Lincoln Sarnoff, Executive Director of HCHW, praising Campbell for its decision to stop using “toxic chemicals” in its soup cans. But the strange thing is Campbell hadn’t said anything about switching from epoxy liners with BPA to a safer alternative. Entine quoted an anonymous source, who told Food Production Daily that the company “is estimating that the full switch to BPA alternative will come about before 2015.”  One headline at TruthTheory.com touted: “Campbell Drops BPA in Response to Health Activism Outrage,” a headline that appeared to give these NGOs validity in their campaign.

Entine noted that a chemical executive friend of his was “flabbergasted,” because no viable alternative to BPA had yet been developed in spite of the “potential market” for it. He couldn’t figure out how Campbell did it. “That’s because Campbell hasn’t figured out how to do it, either,” noted Entine in his Forbes article. While it is “very slowly edging away from using BPA in a tiny fraction of its low-acidic food lines . . . 95% or more” of Campbell’s canned food lines, “like its competitors, will stick with what’s safe and effective.”

Entine landed an interview with David Stangis, then Campbell’s Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability, who told Entine that, while the company intends to “move away from BPA” when it finds substitutes, “it’s a long way off.” That statement directly contradicted the media reports that were flooding the Internet. It also made it look like these activist groups “were taking credit for forcing a change in our behavior, when we haven’t changed,” Stangis told Entine. “Used in cans, it keeps the food from spoiling. We use it. We will follow the science.”

Campbell has been aware of the campaigns waged against it by these NGOs for years, Stangis told Entine, but they have chosen not to start a media war with them because “you don’t win over anyone with a fact-based science argument. We believe BPA is safe. But how can we be scientifically credible without appearing to be ignoring our consumers?” The search for a safe alternative to BPA continues, he added. “Despite what’s been reported in the press, we’re not there yet.”

Welcome to the conundrum of the world of plastics. While the industry is based on science and continues to develop on scientific findings, it’s tough to get the masses to understand the science. They’d rather buy into the media hype. Entine noted that after a few days, Stangis wanted to “correct” his statements about the anti-scientific crusade against BPA and instead give Entine the more politically correct “party line” about Campbell’s awareness of the controversy and how it intends to keep the trust of its consumers. But it will continue to “follow the science” where BPA is concerned.

It appears that companies are so concerned about their products being labeled “toxic” by these NGOs (Healthy Families, Safer Chemicals; As You Sow; Healthy Children Healthy World) whose motive is yet unknown (Is it really an altruistic one? Or is there money involved?), they will promise anything even if the science isn’t there yet. Companies are bound by the many global studies over the past few decades to adhere to the science, as Campbell and other companies appear to be doing, albeit behind the scenes. They owe it to science and to consumers not to “cave” to the NGOs, who rely on hype and a lack of knowledge and understanding of science among the masses of consumers, to stay with the scientific principles of polymers that have actually made our world safer and people healthier.

New alternatives to lined tin cans include new products such as the Klear Can developed by Kortec, a clear polymer can that replicates the benefits of air-tight metal cans in a plastic container enabling food storage for shelf-stable foods, as well as carbonated and oxygen-sensitive beverages. That solves the perceived liner issues for many types of foods.

The alternative to advancements in polymer science for safe food storage is to go back to the old tin cans sealed by lead solder. That perhaps would make these NGOs much happier, or at least shift their focus to something “proven” beyond a doubt to be bad for human health.

How do you think companies like Campbell should respond to pressure from activists? Tell us by voting in this week's PlasticsToday poll positioned in the right-hand column.

About the Author(s)

Clare Goldsberry

Until she retired in September 2021, Clare Goldsberry reported on the plastics industry for more than 30 years. In addition to the 10,000+ articles she has written, by her own estimation, she is the author of several books, including The Business of Injection Molding: How to succeed as a custom molder and Purchasing Injection Molds: A buyers guide. Goldsberry is a member of the Plastics Pioneers Association. She reflected on her long career in "Time to Say Good-Bye."

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