(Corrects NRDC headquarters in seventh paragraph of story published March 29.)
Campbell (CPB:US)’s soup and Chef Boyardee pasta are banned from Lori Popkewitz Alper’s pantry in Bedford, Massachusetts, because the mother of three says her family may be harmed by the chemical that lines the metal containers.
Alper is part of the growing opposition among consumers to bisphenol A, also known as BPA, which the National Institutes of Health says may affect the development of young and unborn children. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which since the 1960s has said BPA is safe, must reassess by March 31 whether the chemical should be forbidden in food and beverage packaging.
An immediate ban would hurt the $60 billion can industry, cutting profits at can makers Silgan Holdings Inc. (SLGN:US), Ball Corp. (BLL:US) and Crown Holdings Inc. (CCK:US), said Ghansham Panjabi, a Roseland, New Jersey-based packaging-industry analyst at Robert W. Baird & Co. Campbell Soup Co. and HJ Heinz Co. (HNZ:US) aren’t waiting for regulators to act and are taking steps to ditch the compound.
“In investment terms, it’s all about what the consumer thinks,” Alexia Howard, a New York-based analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein, said in an interview. “Over time, we will see a decline in the use of cans.”
BPA, produced by combining phenol and acetone, mimics the female hormone estrogen and may affect the brain and prostate gland in fetuses and young children, according to the NIH. It enters the body when it leaches from food and drink containers. BPA, which is used in coatings that extend the shelf life of canned foods, was found by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in almost all urine samples taken from 2,517 people in a 2003-2004 survey.
“The more I’ve learned about BPA and its hazardous effect on everybody, not only children, I have certainly changed my purchasing habits,” Alper, a mother of three boys, said in a telephone interview.
The Natural Resources Defense Council, a New York-based environmental advocacy group, petitioned the FDA in 2008 to ban the chemical in food and beverage packaging. After getting no response, the council won a court settlement in December forcing the agency to reassess whether it should outlaw BPA. Douglas Karas, an FDA spokesman, declined to comment on the petition.
Campbell, the world’s largest soup maker, thinks BPA is safe, Anthony Sanzio, a spokesman for the Camden, New Jersey- based company, said in a telephone interview.
“We also recognize there has been debate over the use of BPA,” he said. “We are committed to making the transition as feasible alternatives are identified for each product.”
Campbell’s U.S. sales fell 2.3 percent last year, according to data (CPB:US) compiled by Bloomberg. Howard’s research found young people and households with children age 2 and younger were least likely to buy canned soup last year. She cut the company’s target price in December by $1 to $31 a share on the expectation that BPA concerns will continue to hurt revenue.
ConAgra Foods Inc. (CAG:US), the maker of Chef Boyardee and Slim Jim snacks, has removed BPA from some of its Hunt’s tomato products and is seeking alternatives for other lines, said Teresa Paulsen, a spokeswoman for the Omaha, Nebraska-based company. Heinz has also started the move to BPA-free cans, said Michael Mullen, a spokesman for the Pittsburgh-based company.
Silgan, North America’s largest can maker, gets 10 percent of its revenue from Campbell’s and 2.6 percent from ConAgra, according to data (SLGN:US) compiled by Bloomberg. About 10 percent of its products are BPA-free and it plans to continue switching to alternatives, Silgan Chief Executive Officer Tony Allott said on a Feb. 1 conference call.
An immediate U.S. ban on BPA in cans would cut Silgan’s per-share earnings by 21 percent, according to Panjabi.
Robert B. Lewis, a Silgan spokesman, Scott McCarty, a spokesman for Broomfield, Colorado-based Ball, and Michael Dunleavey, a spokesman for Philadelphia-based Crown, didn’t immediately return calls seeking comment.
Cytec Industries Inc. (CYT:US) is among the companies poised to grab sales from BPA makers. Cytec has seen more interest in its saturated polyester used in BPA-free can linings, said Jodi Allen, a spokeswoman for the Woodland Park, New Jersey-based coatings maker.
Food makers also are packaging more products in plastic pouches, which are more appealing to young consumers, Sanford C. Bernstein’s Howard said.
Still, beverage makers aren’t joining the move to eliminate BPA voluntarily. Coca-Cola Co. (KO:US), the world’s largest soft drink maker, isn’t changing its can linings, said Petro Kacur, a spokesman for the Atlanta-based company. PepsiCo Inc. (PEP:US), the world’s largest snack-food maker, referred questions to the Grocery Manufacturers Association, a Washington-based industry group, which said BPA is safe for use in food packaging.
Global carbonated soft-drink sales were $175.1 billion in 2010, twice as much as canned food, according to data compiled by Bloomberg Industries.
About 4.7 million metric tons of BPA valued at about $8 billion will be produced this year, one-quarter in the U.S., according to a report by GlobalData, a London-based publisher of business intelligence. Three times as much BPA goes into polycarbonate plastics -- used in items ranging from plastic bottles to DVDs -- as is used to make epoxy resins for can linings and other applications.
The biggest U.S. producer of BPA is Saudi Basic Industries Corp. (SABIC) Jose Ramon Tarzona, a spokesman for Sabic, didn’t respond to e-mail requests for comment. Bryan Iams, a spokesman for Bayer AG (BAYN), the second-largest producer in the U.S., said assessments by the FDA and the European Food Safety Authority show BPA is safe.
“BPA poses no human health risks based on current exposure levels,” Gregory Baldwin, a spokesman for Dow Chemical Co. (DOW:US), the third-biggest producer in the U.S., said in an e-mail response to questions. Can linings are “a very small percentage” of the Midland, Michigan-based company’s epoxy-resin sales, he said.
Manufacturers of baby bottles and cups have already stopped using polycarbonate containing BPA. The American Chemistry Council, a Washington-based industry group, petitioned the FDA in February to ban BPA in those products while reiterating that the chemical is safe when in contact with infants’ food.
Alper, the Massachusetts mother, said it’s empowering to know that consumers’ decisions can prompt change even when regulators don’t act.
“It’s affecting the bottom line, which is what it really takes to make a change with a big corporation,” Alper said. “Moms have a lot of power.”
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