Health warnings about Bisphenol A - BPA - in food and drink containers were slated to go on product labels or store shelves in California next month, but the state agency in charge of the process says it needs more time to figure out which products containing the chemical need that type of warning.
Instead of mandating labels or shelf signs for every product, as required by Prop. 65, the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment is proposing a general notice be posted at check-out lines warning consumers about BPA.
"We’re proposing an emergency regulation where just for a temporary amount of time – probably about one year, the warnings would appear up at cash registers," says Allan Hirsch, Health Hazard Assessment's chief deputy director. The sign "would tell people about BPA in canned food and the fact that it can move from the can lining and the bottle lining into the food."
The notice would say that BPA is "a chemical known to the State of California to cause harm to the female reproductive system," and that "you can be exposed to BPA when you consume foods or beverages packaged in these containers."
Health Hazard Assessment added BPA to the list of Prop. 65 chemicals based on the recommendation of a panel of experts, but Hirsch says the agency needs more time to determine which amounts of BPA in a product will require a warning label.
California added BPA to the state’s Prop. 65 list of harmful chemicals last year. The chemical is used in many plastics, including food and drink containers, and is often used to strengthen the plastic liners inside metal food cans.
BPA has been linked to disruptions to the body's hormonal system, and some studies have found that high levels of exposure have damaged the fetuses of lab animals.
The move to postpone full implementation of the Prop. 65 regulations regarding BPA frustrates consumer groups that had called for adding the compound to the harmful chemicals list.
The state and the manufacturers have had a year to figure this out, says Martha Dina Arguello, head of the Los Angeles chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility.
"State regulators continue to put the interest of industries over the interest of public health," she says. "We don’t want another year go by where people are eating canned vegetables and unaware that there is potent reproductive toxin in their food."
Arguello says it's too late in the shopping process to have the warning posted at cash registers.
"By the time you have it in your cart and you see the sign, it’s too quick and too vague for us to make an informed decision," she says. "We’ve asked them to reconsider and put these where the cans are."
The North American Metal Packaging Alliance, which argues that the state never should have added BPA to the Prop 65 list, says it's assessing the idea of posting a general warning at cash registers.
The Alliance points out that the federal Food and Drug Administration has not named BPA as harmful. The FDA says as of now there’s not enough evidence to reach that conclusion.
The FDA did ban BPA from baby bottles and sippy cups back in 2012, a move it said it took as a precaution.
Some food companies, such as Amy's Kitchen and Annie's Homegrown, owned by General Mills, already use BPA-free cans. And other companies are moving in that direction, too. Last week, Campbell's Soup announced it plans to be BPA-free by the middle of next year. The company, which makes two billion cans a year, says it will use acrylic or polyester material in can liners as a substitute.
The Office of Health Hazard Assessment says it has no plans to try to extend the cash register plan beyond one year – it expects that by then, it will have decided which level of BPA in products will require a label or sign next to them saying they contain harmful levels of the chemical.
The state’s Office of Administrative Law is expected to approve Health Hazard Assessment's emergency proposal for BPA before the end of the month.