Soft-drink risk: It's in the can and it's chemical
MIKE DE SOUZA, CanWest News Service
Published: Monday, December 18, 2006
While some experts worry cola isn't the best ingredient in a healthy lifestyle, federal Health Minister Tony Clement is setting his sights on the cans.
A few days after tabling the government's $300-million plan for managing chemical substances over four years, Clement says soft-drink manufacturers and many other industries will now be forced to prove their products are not putting the health of Canadians at risk.
"The obligation is now with the industry to show that the chemicals can be used safely in a given setting, whether it's an industrial setting or a household setting," Clement said in an interview.
Bisphenol A is on a list of about 200 chemicals that must be tested in the coming months. The substance is commonly used to coat plastic bottles and cans.
Recent peer-reviewed studies have concluded it may also be a hormone disrupter that could cause cancer.
"The industry that produces soft-drink cans has to show that that particular chemical, which does have some dangerous qualities to it, does not seep from the can into the liquid that the can is holding," Clement said.
Coca-Cola Canada coats cans with the substance to prolong the shelf life of its products, said David Moran, director of public affairs and communications at the soft-drink company. The company has always met safety standards based on the existing scientific evidence, he said.
"What we're doing is following generally accepted international practices that have been scientifically proven to be safe in other jurisdictions," Moran said. "Having said that, we're a Canadian company operating in Canada and we'll follow whatever the Canadian government comes up with in terms of new regulations."
Bisphenol A can normally be identified in products by the triangular symbol for recycling with a "7" in the middle.
An industry official insisted there was no reason for alarm, because the current review is designed to make use of new techniques to measure and assess products.
"That's the purpose here - to give consumers confidence," said Gabby Nobrega, senior vice-president for Food and Consumer Products of Canada.
"You may read one article or you may read one study, but the government process is allowing industry, regulators and everybody to look at the use of substances in the totality of what we know about them, and that's critical," she said.
Nobrega noted Bisphenol A is also widely used in a variety of products, including eyeglasses, appliances and automobile parts. Environmental groups suggest this makes it harder to test or find people who have not been exposed to it.
"That's one of the problems with environmental contaminants," said Kapil Khatter, a physician who works as a consultant for Environmental Defence, formerly the Canadian Environmental Defence Fund.
"We're all getting exposed. So it's very hard to find an effect because there's not enough difference between those who are exposed and those who aren't."
Aaron Freeman, the director of policy at Environmental Defence, said soft-drink companies should immediately replace Bisphenol A with alternative products that are already available. If there are any health risks found through testing, he said it could take nearly five years of legally required procedures to remove the products from the shelves.