There are really two questions here: whether or not the USDA consider food packaged in BPA-lined cans organic and; whether or not we should consider food packaged in BPA-lined cans organic. First we need to figure out what BPA is for those that have never heard of it, then we need to look at the USDA National Organic Program's standards, and finally, we need to answer the question: Even if it is allowed for organic food packaging, do we want to feed it to our children, our selves, or even our pets?What is BPA?
Bisphenol A (BPA) is an organic (by the carbon-containing chemistry definition) compound that is used in polycarbonate plastics, epoxy resins, and surprisingly, in cash register receipts. BPA is an endocrine disruptor with several proven and suspected health effects, including cancer, obesity, and reproductive issues. BPA has been classified as a toxic substance by Canada and has been banned from use in baby bottles in the European Union.
In the case of canned vegetables, soup and other products, BPA is used in the lining of the can. This lining prevents the corrosion of the can from the inside and keeps the oxidation products of the metal out of the food. Unfortunately, the close contact between the food and this liner, means that compounds such as BPA can leach into the product. This can be increased when the can is exposed to heat (during packaging or in a hot car) or if it contains acidic foods.
Does The USDA Approve Of BPA-Lined Cans For Organic Food?
The USDA National Organic Program regulates the growing and manufacturing processes for products that wish to use the approved USDA organic labels. What is not part of this program is the regulation of unintended ingredients, including the leaching of BPA into the product from its packaging. According to the USDA: "The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves food packaging materials. Any material intended for use in food packaging must be formulated in compliance with FDA requirements for its intended use under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA)." While it is unrelated to the USDA's National Organic Program, the FDA does regulate the use of "Food Contact Substances" such as Bisphenol A, which it does allow.
Should We Accept BPA-Lined Cans For Our Organic Food?
Like the health impact of cell phone microwaves, or radiation for the nuclear disaster in Japan, it will take more time to understand the true health impacts of BPA. According to the National Toxicology Program Expert Panel Report the average adult consumes 0.008-1.5 µg/kg/day, or 253 µg/year to 0.0474 g/year for the average American male. Measurable amounts of BPA have been discovered in the blood and urine of people for years. However, just the presence of trace amount of anything in our bodily fluids does not automatically equate to health impacts.
Certainly the precautionary principal is warranted in this case and BPA-containing cans should be avoided. Treehugger has identified at least 7 companies you can trust to use BPA-free cans, including Eden Foods and even General Mills. It is recommended that you avoid buying food in BPA-lined cans altogether. If BPA-lined cans are unavoidable, try to stay away from acidic foods, and never heat up your food in the can.
If It's Not Organic, Should It Be?
So, is food that is packaged in BPA-lined cans considered organic by the USDA National Organic Program? The answer is yes, because the program regulates the production and manufacture of the foods, not the packaging, or any other environmental impacts (such as transportation) for that matter. Should it be considered organic? Well, there are advocates for stricter organic standards, which would ensure that foods are not only grown in an environmentally conscious way but also delivered to the customer without harmful substances unintentionally added.
Finally, should you eat food from BPA-lined cans? It is a personal decision, of course. But if you believe in the precautionary principle, it may be better to avoid it until it can be conclusively proven to be safe. You might be waiting for a while.
Pablo Päster is a weekly columnist for TreeHugger.com and Principal Environmental Consultant at Hara Software. Send your questions to Pablo(at)TreeHugger.com or submit the via this form and connect to his RSS feed.
More TreeHugger Articles On BPA In Cans:
7 Companies You Can Trust To Use BPA-Free Cans
Don't Panic: New Study on Bisphenol A (BPA) in Cans Shows Nothing New
BPA Danger may be greater from Tin Cans than Water Bottles