Bottle importer gets mixed messages
Mark Ward got an offer he couldn't refuse. In just two shipments, he nearly cleaned out his supplier's entire North American stock of plastic drink bottles. What sane businessman would turn down 85 per cent off? About 18 months ago, Ward, owner of Extreme Gear, the largest importer of recreational sports water bottles in New Zealand, bought the remainder of Camelbak brand drink bottles that still contained BPA.
His American supplier, Camelbak, decided to switch over to a new plastic called Triton which was easier to mould and could handle new designs and colours. What Camelbak didn't make clear is that North American consumers have become alert to the potential health risks of BPA and so the environmentally conscious supplier had decided to switch to a new BPA-free plastic.
However, their old stock still needed a new home. Ward bought 130,000 bottles from the US retailer, later scooping up most of Canada's unwanted BPA stock too, the same bottles he'd bought in the past. The issue of BPA wasn't yet on Ward's radar. He had read a little about BPA health risks but nothing was conclusive. When he realised what he had, Ward attempted to educate himself. Should he pull them? Send them back? He considers himself an environmentalist and felt strongly that re-usable lifestyle bottles were better than throwaway ones. Ward hoped to bring the retail price down for consumers.
He went to New Zealand Food Safety [NZFSA] and asked for guidance. They told him BPA was not banned in New Zealand and that they were not in a position to tell him, as a commercial supplier, what to do. "NZSFA were adamant that there was no link to cancer. They were adamant there was no danger. We used that as a yardstick," Ward says. Finding conflicting reports from scientists and industry studies, he decided to go ahead and sell the bottles here.
Today, having seen the tide turn strongly against BPA in other markets, he is clearly frustrated: "I don't think we've had clear leadership from our so-called experts in this country. I'm disillusioned with the food safety website and look at their mission statement and who they are. They are supposed to protect consumers." Ward is also the distributor for the new BPA-free bottles and says the market in New Zealand buying them up first and fastest is Queenstown, where international tourists have been exposed to this issue. "They know what they want, they are informed, educated." says Ward. "The hard thing for me," he says, "is I found it really difficult to find a credible source that tells it like it is. Somebody who is willing to stand up and say it is dangerous now." He's still waiting for that definitive answer. Would he do it again, knowing what he knows now? Ward's response: a firm "no." - Tracey Barnett