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California Wants To Delay Toxic Chemical Labeling On Canned Foods

Photo credit: Southern Foodways Alliance / Flickr

An aisle with canned food at a grocery story, March 23, 2008.

Environmental health advocates are upset California wants to put off requiring toxic chemical warning labels on certain canned and bottled foods. The concern is linked to linings inside those containers.

Bisphenol A is a toxic chemical that state officials agree causes harm to a woman's reproductive system. It is used in making the lining of some canned and bottled foods.

The chemical was added to the Proposition 65 list last spring, meaning that the food industry had to make a decision about labeling. State law requires labels on containers or shelves to alert consumers. Those labels would explain the danger of Bisphenol A.

The deadline is in May.

Food distributors say too many canned goods are already on shelves, so changing labels isn't practical.

That means shelves will have to have individual signs for each product that contains Bisphenol A.

That would essentially create a blizzard of warning signs in canned food aisles because each individual product requires its own sign, said Allan Hirsch, deputy director of the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment.

"For right now, we don't think that's a good way to provide warnings. We think it's better for people to be able to see the warning at the cash register. If they're interested, they could go to our website and learn more," Hirsch said.

But the Oakland-based Center for Environmental Health contends the food industry doesn't need more time to adjust, because they have had nearly a year to comply.

The state's plan doesn't protect consumers, said Charles Margulis, a spokesman for the environmental health group.

People will not see the warnings when items are put into shopping baskets, Margulis said. He said people are unlikely to go back and sort through their groceries if they see a sign at the checkout line.

"People are going to be stuck eating canned foods that contain BPA (Bisphenol A) without any alternative, because there will be no way for them to know," Margulis said.

He is also concerned that state officials unveiled the change as an emergency regulation. That limits public comment time and puts the decision in the hands of the state Office of Administrative Law.

"We think there's absolutely no basis for an emergency in this case," Margulis said. "So the Office of Administrative Law should deny this ruling by the CalEPA. And we're hoping that's what they'll do."

A decision on the potential extension is expected in early April. If the proposal is approved, it creates an immediate six-month extension. State officials could also tack on 90-day extensions without additional review.

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Photo of Erik Anderson

Erik Anderson
Environment Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI focus on the environment and all the implications that a changing or challenging environment has for life in Southern California. That includes climate change, endangered species, habitat, urbanization, pollution and many other topics.

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