Thank You, Anonymous Leaker. Now What?

June 2nd, 2009

Thank you to whomever had the gumption to send the now infamous Bisphenol A (BPA)  meeting notes over to The Washington Post.  Notes that exposed discussion about  developing  a  PR plan to restore BPA’s luster and to block  proposed bans on the controversial chemical.  BPA is used in the linings of canned foods and beverages in the US, yet has been linked in numerous independent studies to  myriad health concerns such as endocrine disruption, cancer, diabetes and heart disease (as I’ve previously blogged  here.)  (You can read the meeting  notes from the Cosmos Club discussions with  Coca-Cola, Alcoa, Del Monte, Crown, the American Chemistry Council, the North American Metal Packaging Alliance, Inc. and the Grocery Manufacturers Associations here at the Environmental Working Group’s website.)

There’s nothing unusual about industry insiders sitting down to craft an image campaign to bolster a failing product’s allure.  These steps outlined in the memo are standard marketing tactics:   Fund a consumer perception study. Craft some new messages. Find a marketable spokesperson (in this case a pregnant woman).

But was is unusual is this: for a chemical that is supposed to be so safe,  why do the notes show no discussion about the overlooked benefits of BPA? If the problem truly is “perception,” why didn’t the participants spend their time talking about the key points supporting their position that BPA is safe? And why did someone feel compelled to leak the notes if everything truly was on the up-and-up?

According to the notes, the accuracy of which were verifed by a NAMPA spokesperson in The Post article, the attendees spent their time discussing budget ($500,000 for the campaign) and tactics. Funny thing is, they’ve already had a big PR firm, Stanton Communications, representing them. According to O’Dwyers, Stanton also represents The Formaledehyde Council, coincidentally the same group that left snarky comments on  Mom blogs after we blogged about the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics’  Toxic Tub report.

Now, in this recession, in this town, $500,000 is a lot of money for PR work.  NAMPA and its allies can secure the finest communications council  DC has to offer for that princely sum.  But according NAMPA’s  website,  Stanton already reported  in February that “In just the first four weeks of 2009, more than 150 articles have been published in various trade, environmental, health, and consumer media. While the specific content of the articles has varied, the underlying message is the same — BPA found in plastic products and metal cans is harmful to people and should be avoided or eliminated. .. . This underscores the need for swift and consistent response to articles as they appear, to set the record straight on BPA, specifically in relation to its critical usage in metal packaged food and beverage products.”

In NAMPA’s response to The Post story, also posted on their website, they state,  ”The use of BPA-based epoxy liners in metal food and beverage cans serves a critical function by preventing a myriad of contaminants from penetrating into the food, affording longer shelf life and significant nutrition, convenience, and economy. Unfortunately, the one-sided reporting so commonplace in the media has left consumers to conclude that rather than preventing health impacts, the epoxy liner itself causes problems because it contains infinitesimal amounts of BPA.”

So is this their entire defense?   BPA prevents contamination from penetrating into food and it’s approved by the FDA. NAMPA appears to imply that we should ignore advice such as this one issued on May 21st from  Harvard’s School of Public HealthWith increasing evidence of the potential harmful effects of BPA in humans, the authors believe further research is needed on the effect of BPA on infants and on reproductive disorders and on breast cancer in adults.”

Hmmm…how do they sell Coke in Japan? The Japanese, who banned BPA, must have found a suitable alternative that does not contaminate the food supply. And while it’s true that BPA is not banned in Europe, it’s also true that countries around the world are reviewing their laws. From NAMPA’s own May e-newsletter I read “NAMPA has learned that the Danish Parliament has proposed a law to ban BPA in baby bottles and other consumer products.  The proposal acknowledges the European Food Safety Agency’s (EFSA) approval of the use of BPA in 2008, but dismisses this finding and indicates its
unsuccessful efforts to have EFSA apply more severe rules governing BPA.”

Here’s an offer. When NAMPA gets its act together, I’d love to talk to their new high-priced  PR firm to get answers to my questions. I’m sure I could get some other Mom bloggers to join me, those who’ve just posted their own reactions to the specter of a pregnant woman hawking BPA products:   The Smart Mama,    Green and Clean Mom, Nature Moms,     Safe MamaNon Toxic Kids, The Soft Landing, Jenn Savedge of Mother Nature Network and The Green Parent,   Retro Housewife Goes Green , and Leslie aka La Mama Naturale over at Eco Childs Play.  How about a blogger conference call?

To round it out, let’s invite Consumer Reports too – as their blog says, “We have repeatedly called for BPA to be banned from food and beverage containers, and for the government to take immediate action to protect infants and children from BPA exposure. Some manufacturers and retailers have already begun removing BPA from their products. We hope that more will follow that example rather than relying on cynical public relations gimmicks.”

What do you think? Leave a comment and share.


Copyright OrganicMania 2009

15 Responses to “Thank You, Anonymous Leaker. Now What?”

  1. Leslie- La Mama Naturale' on June 3, 2009 1:13 am

    I’m on board. I blogged about this at ECP!

    Leslie- La Mama Naturale’’s last blog post..Happy WW~ Clark, 2 Mos.

  2. mcmilker on June 3, 2009 6:13 am

    Great post, Lynn,

    I think your piont about Japan is a good one. There are alternatives obviously

    As I’ve said over and over, the smartest way to handle a PR crisis is to invite those kicking up a fuss to the table to help solve the problem. And this is something I learned in PR 101 20 years ago – did no one pay attention in that class?

    mcmilker’s last blog post..Knitting With Children

  3. Lynn on June 3, 2009 6:24 am

    Thanks, Maryanne. Yes, but many of these PR people are afraid to “engage” with bloggers. What are they afraid of? I remember being told that when I was invited to speak at a big DC PR firm — I couldn’t understand it. Now I see it in action – companies will send staffers to conferences to speak “at” Digital Moms but they won’t answer emails or phone calls or directly respond to honest questions. My experience with J&J really turned me off, I’m seeing more of the same with this…

  4. Lynn on June 3, 2009 6:25 am

    Leslie, thanks so much…. i added your post! — Lynn

  5. Mary on June 3, 2009 7:36 am

    Good point on why the notes didn’t talk about the good things, only the ways to counter the bad PR. There is a message in that as well.

  6. Calling All Pregnant Women: The BPA Industry Wants YOU! : Eco Child’s Play on June 3, 2009 9:04 am

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  7. Sommer on June 3, 2009 10:01 am


    Excellent perspective on the issue. I think that PR firms don’t engage bloggers because yes, they might be afraid but also they might have to pay for a panel of bloggers to speak with them and they don’t want to give up their money. I’ve learned this over and over with PR firms – they want something for free. They’ll engage us to promote a product but that’s it.

    Sommer’s last blog post..Diane MacEachern is One In a Million

  8. Lisa on June 3, 2009 12:31 pm

    I’m on board for however Green Mom’s and bloggers overall want to do next to stop this. I think I may go write some letters to the companies we know where at the meeting.

    Lisa’s last blog post..BPA Industry’s New Plan

  9. Lynn on June 3, 2009 1:15 pm

    Lisa, that’s just what Congress did: wrote a letter. Check this out:

  10. Brenna on June 4, 2009 7:04 am

    That would be incredible to see all the mom bloggers on a conference call with NAMPA, you would have them shaking in their boots I am sure! We have the power to create change, we just have to choose to do it.

    Brenna’s last blog post..What can we do about Bisphenol-A?

  11. Lynn on June 4, 2009 7:07 am

    Actually, I don’t want to “have them.” I want the truth. It’s possible they just really have incredible bad communications – I’ve seen that before, especially with technical people. I do give them some credence for saying that there may not be safer alternatives to BPA. Let’s make sure we know what we’re replacing BPA with before we just replace it with something.

    Call me skeptical, but in my experience, the truth is rarely black or white – it’s usually subtle and shades of gray. We just need to find out what is going on. I’m glad Waxman has stepped in.

  12. Condo Blues on June 4, 2009 11:34 am

    When I was in Japan I saw Coke sold in cans.

    I think PR companies are hesistant to engage bloggers on this issue because they can’t be sure what kind of coverage they’re going to get because they are dealing with citizen jouralists, not professional media outlets. In public relations the goal is to get your message out there for free through press releases, press conferences, offering samples for review, etc. Hopefully, the person receiving your ‘stuff’ will pass along your message as you hoped. For the most part that happens with traditional media professionals. But since bloggers are usually just regular folks many of them write from the heart and tell what they really fell about the company’s message – warts and all. PR companies like this when it works in their favor but there is the risk that it won’t. Maybe that’s why they are infraid to engage a group of concerned bloggers?

    Condo Blues’s last blog post..5 Nontoxic and Natural Bleach Alternatives

  13. melissa on June 4, 2009 12:11 pm

    sign me up! believe me i work in advertising and there is no way anyone would ever ignore a bunch of moms–blogs or no blogs.

    in ad speak we are the “influencers”, the “adopters” and the “purchasers”. we are too valuable to them to ignore. but they will ignore us until we make a big stink. then they’ll fall all over themselves to comply.

    melissa’s last blog post..happy 1st birthday clare!

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