Board should back retailers’ move away from BPA

Posted Nov. 14, 2010, at 9:55 p.m.

As any business owner will tell you, good business means responding to the needs and desires of your clients. For many of our customers at the Belfast Co-op, health and safety is a top priority.

At the Belfast Co-op, our customers seek out BPA-free products due to the links found between BPA and a staggering number of health problems. Since the 1930s, it has been known that Bisphenol A mimics estrogens, binding to the same receptors throughout the human body as natural female hormones. This activity has been linked to learning disabilities, behavior problems, breast and prostate cancer, reproductive damage, early puberty in girls, diabetes, obesity and other health problems.

Our customers are voting with their shopping carts — choosing to purchase BPA-free products, and as a business, we think that it is high time that our government steps in to protect our health and bans BPA.

On Aug. 19, I was proud to represent the Belfast Co-op store at a public hearing before Maine’s Board of Environmental Protection, which was taking testimony on banning BPA. The Belfast Co-op supports the ban of BPA in Maine. It was encouraging to hear the testimonies of many other businesses, doctors, scientists, parents and community members in support of the ban, with only a few with ties to the industry speaking in opposition.

All businesses want to sell products that are safe for kids and families. Like most of the businesses in Maine, we are counting on companies and manufacturers to produce, sell and clearly label safe products.

The Belfast Co-op store is the oldest and largest food co-op in Maine, in business since 1976 and nearing 3,000 members. As a natural foods business, we feel it is our responsibility to provide natural and chemical-free options for our members and the general public. Our store is a resource for consumers throughout Maine and the many visitors to the midcoast region.

In response to customer demand, we carry products that are free of BPA, a toxic hormone-disrupting chemical used to line metal cans and in many plastic consumer products. The Co-op sells many BPA-free products such as baby food, baby bottles, “sippy cups,” pacifiers, canned beans by Eden Foods and other products. The Co-op also sells a BPA-free water bottle with our logo on it.

These products sell very well, and we regularly receive comments either thanking us for carrying these products or requests that we expand our selection of BPA-free products. We are pleased to carry products such as Eden Foods organic beans, the first company to seek alternative options to BPA-containing cans that are widely used by all canning companies.

Looking at the shelves of any co-op or grocery store, it is clear that businesses are responding faster than the government to public concerns about BPA. Even corporations including H.J. Heinz and Con Agra are starting to use some BPA-free linings in their cans.

I think we can all agree that every Maine family deserves a home free of toxic chemicals. Our children deserve to grow up without dangerous chemicals in the bottles, cups, food and other products they encounter each day. Parents deserve to know that the products they buy for their babies and children are safe. However, to make this vision a reality, retail stores need to know what chemicals are used in the products they sell and need to have access to (and awareness of) safe alternatives.

Just as we strive to support our customers’ desire to protect their health and safety, we expect the same from Maine’s Board of Environmental Protection.

Hester Kohl is the outreach coordinator at the Belfast Co-op.

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