The Home Front

Chemical Warfare

Last week, an advocacy organization called the Breast Cancer Fund released a report claiming that “there is a toxic chemical lurking in your child’s Campbell’s Disney Princess soup, in her Chef Boyardee pasta with meatballs, even in her organic Annie’s cheesy ravioli.”

Oh brother!

#more#These alarming claims seem commonplace now. Earlier this month, Oprah protégée Dr. Oz dedicated an entire show to scaring the heck out of parents by claiming there are dangerous levels of arsenic in apple juice. Of course, what Dr. Oz failed to mention is that there are two kinds of arsenic — the bad one (you know, the Cary-Grant-Arsenic-and-Old-Lace-smells-like-almonds-you’re-being-poisoned-type arsenic) and the perfectly harmless, naturally occurring arsenic, which is found in many foods and is perfectly fine for human consumption. Of course, the truth really can be a bummer — particularly when a daytime talk-show host is trying to get higher ratings.

The Breast Cancer Fund’s report is similarly dramatic, playing fast and loose with the facts. The report states that the “toxic chemical” Bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical used in the lining of canned foods “leaches into the food and is then consumed by adults and children alike.” To illustrate this leaching, the Breast Cancer Fund sent a selection of canned goods to a laboratory for analysis. Sure enough, the results came back showing BPA had indeed leached into the food. The amount of BPA in the tested foods ranged from a high of 148 to just 10 parts per billion (ppb).

Yet, what the Breast Cancer Fund failed to do in its shiny new eight-page report, replete with pictures of smiling children eating canned food, is explain what these levels actually mean. While a number like 148 ppb might sound like a lot of BPA, it really isn’t when you consider that currently, the European Union sets 600 ppb as the daily limit of safe consumption for BPA and that the European Food Safety Agency has proposed to increase that level to 3,000 ppb per day.

In fact, the safety of BPA has been known for some time. In 2002, the European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Food (SCF) examined the average person’s dietary intake of BPA and found the total intake from all food sources (including the lining in canned foods), was in the range of 0.00048 to 0.0016 milligrams per kilogram body weight per day, far below the Tolerable Daily Intake (TDI) set by the SCF of 0.01 milligrams per kilogram body weight per day.

Yet, somehow this reassuring study didn’t make it into the Breast Cancer Fund’s report. In fact, the report doesn’t even mention “tolerable daily intake” which shows that this report has an agenda other than just informing the public. 

The report then goes on to say that because their lab results show these foods did contain some amount of BPA, that eating canned foods “beyond a single serving on a regular basis could lead to exposure to levels of BPA that have been associated with abnormalities in breast development and increased risk of developing breast cancer, and adverse effects on brain development, reproductive development, prostate weight, testis weight, puberty onset, body weight, metabolic immune system functions, and gender-related behaviors including aggression and some social behaviors.”

Yikes! Cancer, brain development, and reproductive problems. Geez, these sound really scary. And they are . . . if you’re a rat residing in a cage in a laboratory.

The “studies” cited in this irresponsible report were conducted on rats who were injected with BPA and received much higher doses than are consumed by eating a few servings of Campbell’s chicken noodle soup.

In fact, of the seven studies the report cites, only one was done on humans, and was conducted on cells extracted from women at high risk of developing cancer. In this study, the researchers actually “introduced” the donor’s “high-risk . . . breast epithelial cells to BPA in concentrations that are detectable in human blood, placenta and milk.” In other words, the cells were directly injected with a massive dose of BPA. Luckily for us, the canned food industry isn’t stabbing us in the arm with a syringe-full of BPA.

Of course, the handwringers at the Breast Cancer Fund missed another study released just this year by a team of scientists from U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. In this study, actual humans volunteered to eat a diet with higher levels of BPA than is normally consumed by the average American. The volunteers’ blood and urine was then collected and analyzed. The results showed that in the majority of samples, no BPA was detected.

FDA scientists Ronald J. Lorentzen and David G. Hattan recently wrote about the tendency of these organizations to ignore the important issue of “dose” in order to drive home their scientifically inaccurate point. In the online journal Nature, the scientists explained that “[V]irtually every situation or substance is hazardous under some conditions, or at some dose, and to refer to hazard (detection) alone paints a profoundly deficient portrait of risk to the public.” In other words, even your sweet grandmother’s homemade rice pudding will also kill you…if you eat two tons of it.

Not surprising, the Breast Cancer Fund report failed to mention the many other studies that have shown that BPA poses no risk to humans (h/t Michael Fumento at In the United States, the FDA and the Environmental Protection Agency have consistently stated that BPA is safe as used. A 2006 review by the European Union’s Food Safety Authority has declared PBA safe, as did a 2007 review by Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology. In 2008, the Norwegian Scientific Committee for Food Safety examined claims of neurotoxicity in BPA but found the chemical to be safe. That same year, an evaluation by the French Food Safety Agency, a risk assessment by NSF International, and a study by the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment each declared BPA to be safe. In 2009, BPA was deemed safe by a survey of canned drink products by Health Canada, a risk assessment by Food Standards Australia/New Zealand, and a modeling study of BPA in humans by the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment.

BPA has been blamed for everything from obesity to autism to erectile dysfunction in Chinese men. It’s also now being accused of poisoning our children.

The Breast Cancer Fund claims it “works to connect the dots between breast cancer and exposures to chemicals and radiation in our everyday environments.” This study fails miserably to connect cancer or any other disease to BPA. But looking at the headlines that have accompanied this report (“More Worries About BPA” and “BPA Found In Kid-Friendly Canned Food”), they’ve succeeded in one small area: scaring the holy heck out of parents doing their best in tough times to nourish their families.

— Julie Gunlock is a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum.