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.”

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Copyright OrganicMania 2009