BANGOR, Maine — Belgrade mother Megan Rice said she was very upset when she found out that the baby food she was feeding her two infant daughters came in packaging that contained bisphenol A, commonly known as BPA.
“I was irate,” she said after a Wednesday press conference held downtown to urge Gov. Paul LePage to ask the 10 biggest food and beverage manufacturers to disclose if their products arrive in Maine in packages made with BPA. “I was buying the expensive, organic baby food and to find it had toxic chemicals — it made me mad.”
LePage on July 8 vetoed LD 1181, known as the Healthy Kids Bill, which passed unanimously through the House and Senate and would have required more stringent labeling of potentially harmful chemicals in food packaging.
The Healthy Kids Bill would have required food companies with gross annual sales of more than $1 billion to report whether they use potentially toxic chemicals, such as bisphenol A, in their products and packaging. LePage wrote in his veto letter that the bill goes too far beyond changes enacted during the last legislative session to Maine’s Priority Chemicals Law and represents an unfunded mandate for the Department of Environmental Protection.
“These efforts will require significant resources and such resources are not forthcoming,” wrote LePage. “The agency can’t do something with nothing.”
“BPAs are the worst of the worst,” retired nurse Bettie Kettell, a cancer survivor and grandmother from Durham who is a member of the Environmental Health Strategy Center in Portland, said during the downtown press conference protesting LePage’s veto. “It’s bad for kids and very bad for pregnant women.”
BPA is used in the lining of some canned foods and jar lids and has been shown to cause a range of health problems and hormone imbalances, especially in children and pregnant women.
“We have the right to know what is going into our food,” Rice said during the press conference. “Toxic chemicals like BPA have no place at the dinner table.”
Emma Halas-O’Connor of the Environmental Health Strategy Center said she and others in the Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Maine are disappointed with the governor’s decision to veto the bill.
“What a shame and missed opportunity to protect children and pregnant women from the harmful effects of BPA,” she said.
Halas-O’Connor said LePage can redeem himself by sending letters to the country’s top 10 food manufacturers asking that they disclose their BPA use. The group created draft letters to Kraft, Pepsi Co., Nestle, Coca-Cola, General Mills, Kellogg’s, Hershey, ConAgra, Del Monte and Campbell’s, that they delivered to the governor’s office after leaving Bangor. Halas-O’Connor said she would even supply LePage with stamps to send the letters.
“At this point there is no way for families and restaurants to know if there is BPA in the canned food they use,” Kettell said. “It’s just common sense.”
The country’s top 10 food manufacturers produce about 70 percent of the foods found on store shelves, she said, and laws are already in place to ban BPA from toys, baby bottles and sippy cups, and packaging for infant formulas, under the 2008 Kid-Safe Products Act.
“Why is food any different?” Kettell asked. “It makes no sense and it keeps families in the dark.”
The Food and Drug Administration last year rejected a Natural Resources Defense Council petition to ban PBA from all food and beverage containers, saying there was not enough scientific evidence to support the move, the Natural Resources Defense Council ’s website states.
“Studies employing standardized toxicity tests have thus far supported the safety of current low levels of human exposure to BPA,” the FDA website states. “However, on the basis of results from recent studies using novel approaches to test for subtle effects, both the National Toxicology Program at the National Institutes of Health and FDA have some concern about the potential effects of BPA on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants, and young children.”
The FDA supports the industry’s actions to stop producing BPA-containing baby bottles and infant feeding cups, the development of alternatives to BPA for the linings of infant formula cans and to replace BPA or minimize BPA levels in other food can linings, the website states.
Rice said mothers and pregnant women should not have to do research to find out if a product sold in a Maine store contains BPA.
“It’s hard to know. I’m not a chemist,” she said, with her daughters, Kate and Elizabeth, now ages 8 and 6, standing beside her. “I think if it’s on the shelves, it should be safe.”
All canned food, including the baked beans her daughter Kate loved, have been banned from her home and all the reusable plastic items she once had have been replaced by glassware, Rice said.
“I thought I was making good choices, but then I found out there was BPA in the sippy cup Kate used and there was BPA in the baby food I fed to both my children,” she said.
Shortly after finding out about the BPA in her home, she started advocating for change.
BDN reporter Christopher Cousins contributed to this story.