The BPA Debate Rages On; Campbell's Becomes a Target
Like most mothers, Dr. Alicia Bigelow was thrilled that her son loved lentils. And as a busy mom and doctor, she thought giving him canned organic lentils and pasta in tomato sauce was both healthy and convenient.
So she was more than a little alarmed when the 3-year-old started complaining of pain around his nipples — and she realized he was developing breast buds.
"He was 3, and a boy, developing bits of breast tissue," she said. "My immediate thought was, 'What has he just been exposed to?'"
A conversation with her son's pediatrician revealed that the cause was probably hormone disruption from a chemical compound called bisphenol A (BPA) in the canned food he was eating. Bigelow's son ate around three to four cans per week, the mother of two said.
She immediately stopped feeding him canned food. After two months, the breast buds were gone. He no longer eats canned food, but continues to enjoy copious amounts of lentils and pasta that Mom makes for him. The breast buds have not returned.
Though Bigelow didn't want to name the brand of soup her son was eating (BPA is an industry-wide problem, she says) and did not get the product tested for BPA, she is certain the chemical is responsible for her child's symptoms. The can did not, after all, say it was BPA-free.
Bigelow, a naturopathic doctor and faculty member at the National College of Natural Medicine, has since signed a petition started by a nonprofit called Healthy Child, Healthy World, against BPA in the lining of Campbell's soup cans. The petition began in August but last week, the organization posted it on Change.org with a goal of getting 5,000 signatures. At press time, that goal has been met; now the petition's magic number is 7,500.
BPA's health risks have always been vigorously debated, but more concerns about the chemical have been raised in recent years. The estrogen-like compound disrupts the endocrine system and may be linked to several disorders, including chromosomal and reproductive-system abnormalities, impaired brain and neurological functions, cancer, cardiovascular damage, adult-onset diabetes, early puberty, obesity, and resistance to chemotherapy, according to studies done by the Environmental Working Group. Eleven states, California being the most recent, have banned BPA from infant-feeding devices.
The folks at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have deemed BPA safe but even they admit that infants' exposure to the chemical should be kept to a minimum. As for the FDA, its website, in response to new studies, says that the agency is concerned "about the potential effects of BPA on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants, and young children."
Rachel Sarnoff, the executive director of Healthy Child, Healthy World, is optimistic about the petition having an impact on Campbell's: "Like most manufacturers, they really see when parents get together and raise their voice. They're going to listen."
Other manufacturers, including Eden Organics, Native Foods, and Trader Joe's, have taken BPA out of at least some of their products.
Campbell's, for its part, insists that BPA is safe. And that the company wouldn't be using it if it wasn't. Campbell's spokesperson Anthony Sanzio pointed out that in addition to the FDA, the World Health Organization and the European Food Safety Authority supports BPA's continued use, and that his company is continuing to examine scientific research and is sensitive to consumer concerns. "We are confident BPA is safe," Sanzio said, adding that switching to an alternative is not a viable option given concerns about packaging and shelf life.
"That's just not an excuse as far as I'm concerned," Bigelow responded. "Technology is so advanced and we can do so many things. To say that we can't find an alternative is basically a cop out."