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Maine restaurants want toxic BPA off the menu

Posted July 08, 2013, at 12:05 p.m.
Last modified July 08, 2013, at 3:02 p.m.

A simple truth is that no Maine business wants to sell products containing dangerous chemicals. That’s particularly true for restaurants like mine that pride themselves on serving foods that are local, fresh and healthy.

So while lawmakers in Augusta have taken decisive action to get the chemical bisphenol A out of sippy cups, infant formula and baby food packaging, it is very concerning that the bulk of canned food used by families and restaurants continues to be tainted with this toxic hormone disruptor.

As a chef, I take pride in knowing exactly what I am putting into the dishes I prepare and where those items come from. But getting good information about which food packaging contains BPA is virtually impossible.

Is BPA in the curry paste, the coconut milk or the kalamata olives? Parents and businesses are left in the dark about which products are safe and which are not. Meanwhile, children and pregnant women are needlessly exposed to a chemical that is known to cause learning disabilities, cancer, diabetes and reproductive problems.

It’s time to get BPA off the menu at Maine restaurants.

Canned food is a major source of BPA exposure. Because BPA is by nature an unstable chemical, it readily leaches out of the epoxy resins used to line metal cans and jar lids. From there it contaminates the food and beverages inside. Research shows that while two thirds of adult exposure to BPA comes from canned food, children’s exposure is also dominated by consumption of adult canned food.

No chef would knowingly add a dangerous chemical to one of our recipes, but when BPA is used in food packaging, it ultimately ends up in the food. I’m sure I’m not the only restaurant owner who wants to know that the staples in our pantries are safe from BPA.

Like most small businesses in Maine, we are a family-oriented operation with a strong commitment to our community. Our customers are our neighbors. Our kids go to school together or play on the same soccer teams. We focus on local produce, meats and seafood, and we source from almost 20 farms in the region. We want our community to thrive and we want to raise healthy kids.

Maine legislators have taken an important step to address the problem of BPA in food. LD 1181, the Healthy Kids Bill, was passed unanimously in both the House and the Senate last week. If it becomes law, it will begin to give Maine businesses the information we seek by requiring food manufacturers that gross more than $1 billion in annual sales to report their use of priority chemicals such as BPA in food packaging.

Most Maine food comes from these billion dollar food giants. Just 76 food and beverage companies sell more than $1 billion in food every year, and none of them are Maine businesses, according to the Environmental Health Strategy Center. Asking them to report their use of BPA in packaging is simple and common sense, and it will ultimately benefit all of us.

Parents and businesses will get good information, which will drive demand for safer products. Large manufacturers will seek out safer alternatives at an affordable price, and Maine’s small food producers will benefit from better, safer options. The Healthy Kids Bill is a win-win approach to moving us closer to a BPA-free food supply.

Economic growth and improving public health are not in conflict. In fact, preventing disease is a smart investment because healthy kids do better in school, healthy workers are more productive, and lower health costs are good for every business and family in Maine.

The Healthy Kids Bill will make a real difference in improving health and reducing health costs for Maine families and businesses. Just like parents and pregnant women, Maine businesses have a right to know whether our food and food packaging are safe.

BPA is a powerful estrogen mimic that has no place at the dinner table. Gov. Paul LePage should stand with restaurant owners and all Maine businesses and quickly sign LD 1181. But if the governor does veto this important bill, legislators must affirm their unanimous support and vote to override. Maine people want safer alternatives to BPA.

Andrew Hikade and his family own Arborvine Restaurant and Deepwater Brew Pub in Blue Hill.

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