Fight against plastics chemical a
matter for the consumer
When you read about the chemical Bisphenol-A and bottle importer Mark Ward, heads up.
If you think this story is about sports bottles and murky science you'll never decipher, you've got it dead wrong.
This story is about sending a message every time you open your wallet. It's about individual actions wielding a big, honking sledgehammer.
Just ask those crazy Canadians. Some scientists started finding unsettling results when they exposed animals to even the tiniest amounts of BPA, the chemical used to make clear, hard plastics.
Though it is still being disputed, there have been enough studies to make some scientists draw a link to diabetes, obesity, attention deficit, breast and prostate cancers, early puberty and skewed reproductive health.
Paradoxically, adults seem to ingest it just fine in low doses. It's when babies are exposed to even tiny amounts in the womb, or as growing children, that exposure may impact the children they bear, as well as themselves. This kicker may not start to show up adversely until your child has children.
More worrying is when we ingest it from residue from food containers that contain BPA, such as plastic baby bottles or the interior lining of tin cans. It's also found in dental sealants, eyeglass lens, toys and computers.
When scientists started publishing their initial studies, Canadian consumers reacted. They didn't want to wait another generation to find out if the reigning view deeming BPA safe will hold true.
Their press was on it. Consumers started to avoid buying BPA products. Canada became the first country in the world to ban BPA in baby bottles.
The United States noticed next. They, like the European Union, had ruled BPA was safe, until they stubbed their toe on one small problem.
Someone noticed that 100 per cent of industry-funded studies found no harm from BPA, but curiously, about 90 per cent of independent studies did find adverse health effects. Maybe we'd better revisit this one, the Americans concluded. That's where they are now. A decision is due soon.
But don't hold your breath for quick change. The economic motivator to resist this billion dollar plastic retrenchment from multiple industries worldwide is staggering. Regulators will be up against the food canning industry, computer producers, the dental industry, bottle manufacturers, and more. The players are estimable: Dow, General Electric, and Shell, just for starters.
What does this shift look like for us at home? Unfortunately, it hits at the livelihood of local businesspeople here too, and not just Mark Ward.
On our own shores, I had a distributor threatening me with lawyers if I merely published that his brand contained BPA - and he didn't know himself what was in his newly arrived container. He chose to go by what his industry-provided information told him was safe.
Many retailers are in transition, trying to sell their old BPA stock before bringing in new BPA-free stuff. Others disagree, concluding that Kiwis are voting with their wallets too.
But I don't buy it. An educated consumer will trump price any day. Just ask the retailers in Queenstown who have been buying up BPA-free bottles for months. Why? Their customers are international tourists who know all about BPA from their overseas markets.
Yet when I walked into Auckland stores and asked customers and new mothers if they had heard about BPA, I might as well have been babbling in Aramaic.
Plunket isn't adding much to the mix. They will tell new mothers about BPA if they know to ask, otherwise they refer them to NZ Food Safety Authority's website that says BPA does not cause cancer.
The authority will move to change their perspective when the long, slow, behemoth of the United States regulatory body, the Federal Drug Agency, or the European Union acts. That might be years if industry agitation has anything to say about it.
Meanwhile, where does that leave someone like importer Mark Ward who did his damnedest to ask questions, yet found no new answers from our local authorities? And the average Kiwi?
Vote with your wallet - now. Until the slow train of regulatory bodies worldwide catch up to the consumer backlash, buy BPA-free, if you're unsure.
Educate yourself before you put dental sealants on your child's six-year-old molars. You might have to educate your dentist too. Don't put plastics in the microwave or heat food in tin cans. Tell other new mothers about BPA-free baby bottles if Plunkett won't officially take the initiative until NZFSA does.
Kiwi suppliers should proactively ask if their next shipment contains BPA so other countries don't attempt to dump their unwanted product on our shores. We don't want to be at the wrong end of this tail.
Let's be clear. Nothing is proven yet. But it feels damned good to take initiative for our own health - one person, one educated dollar at a time.