Over 10,000 chemicals are used in food processing and packaging worldwide, some of which are linked to breast cancer and other health harms. From packaging dyes, to conveyor belts and tubes, to sealings on jar lids, toxic chemicals migrate into food and our bodies. In addition, direct food additives like colorants, flavors and preservatives are another source of toxic chemicals in our food.
Chemicals linked to breast cancer are regularly used in food packaging and processing. While there may be hundreds of harmful chemicals in our food from food processing and packaging, the total number and exact scope of health risk is unknown.
Food packaging additive Bisphenol-A or BPA is a hormone-disrupting compound and reproductive toxicant. Prenatal and infant exposure to BPA is particularly harmful. In the past, BPA was widely used in baby bottles, sippy cups, infant formula packaging, and the lining of steel food and aluminum beverage cans. In 2012, thanks to the work of BCPP and our partners, the FDA banned BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups. Within the last 5 to 10 years, manufacturers have largely moved away from the use of BPA in can linings, although most keep their replacement chemicals a secret. This means no one (not the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), academic scientists, nor watchdog NGOs) can examine the science on these substitutes or assess their safety.
Other toxic chemicals linked to breast cancer are used both upstream, in food processing, and downstream, in food packaging and serving. For example, conveyer belts, milking equipment, and retail food service gloves often contain hormone-disrupting phthalates. Exposure to phthalates is linked to breast cancer, developmental issues, decreased fertility, obesity, and asthma.
Downstream in food packaging and serving, toxic PFAS (per- and polyfluorinated) “forever” chemicals are used in microwave popcorn bags and fast food containers. PFAS chemicals are linked to severe health problems including breast and other cancers, hormone disruption, kidney and liver damage, thyroid disease, developmental harm, and immune system disruption, including interference with vaccines.
Kick the can, get out of plastic, and learn about more healthy ways to reduce your risk.
What’s happening in policy
Between corporate secrecy around the food industry’s use of chemicals, a lack of adequate U.S. food safety regulations, and poor implementation of existing regulations by the Food and Drug Authority, we are all exposed to harmful chemicals in our food. That’s why BCPP advocates for stronger food safety policies at the U.S. federal and state levels.
Federal Food Safety Legislation
We are actively supporting federal legislation to ban PFAS “forever” chemicals and ortho-phthalates from food packaging and processing, and close a loophole that allows companies to secretly self-designate food chemicals as safe.
We support these federal bills:
- H.R. 3699 Toxic Free Food Act of 2021 introduced by Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT): This bill would address a major weakness in current food safety law known as the ‘Generally Recognized As Safe’ loophole that industry exploits and FDA neglects. The loophole allows companies to secretly self-designate food chemicals as safe without notifying the FDA.
- H.R. 4694 Food Chemical Reassessment Act of 2021 introduced by Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-IL): This bill would institute a major change to existing policy by requiring the FDA to reassess food chemicals within set timeframes. It prioritizes several chemicals for reassessment that are scientifically linked to breast cancer.
- S. 2269/H.R. 4963 Protect Our Food from Phthalate Contamination Act introduced by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Representatives Ted Lieu (D-CA) and Katie Porter (D-CA). These bills would ban ortho-phthalates from use in food processing and packaging.
- H.R. 6026 / S.3169 Keep Food Containers Safe from PFAS Act introduced by Representatives Debbie Dingell (D-MI), Don Young (R-AK) and Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH). This bill would ban intentionally added PFAS chemicals from food packaging.
- S. 4316 Ensuring Safe and Toxic-Free Foods Act of 2022 introduced by Senator Edward Markey (D-MA): Like HR 4694, This bill would institute a major change to existing policy by requiring the FDA to reassess food chemicals within set timeframes. It prioritizes several chemicals for reassessment that are scientifically linked to breast cancer. The bill also would address the ‘Generally Recognized As Safe’ loophole that industry that allows companies to secretly self-designate food chemicals as safe without notifying the FDA.
- H.R. 2229 / S. 1019 Baby Food Safety Act introduced by Representative Krishnamoorthi and Senator Klobuchar: These bills would eliminate toxic heavy metals from baby food, protecting babies’ vulnerable developing brains and reducing exposures to heavy metals linked to breast cancer.
State Food Safety Legislation
In 2021, we co-sponsored the California Safer Food Packaging and Cookware Act (AB1200 by Phil Ting), which bans paper-based food packaging containing PFAS from sale in California as of January 1, 2023, and requires labeling of hazardous chemicals in cookware both online (by January 1, 2023) and on the product label (by January 1, 2024).
Cans Not Cancer Campaign
BCPP’s Cans Not Cancer Campaign pressured canned food manufacturers to stop lining cans with BPA (Bisphenol-A). Today, thanks to people like you and our partners who supported the Campaign, manufacturers have largely phased BPA out of can linings. Now, 9 out of 10 food cans are BPA-Free. However, as noted above, many keep their replacement chemicals a secret, so the work is not finished.
Read Our Report
We advocate for companies to get toxic chemicals linked to breast cancer and other health harm out of our food by systematically identifying harmful chemicals and replacing them with safer alternatives.
Our partners in prevention who work to make food packaging safe and non-toxic include:
Campaign for Healthier Solutions, Center for Environmental Health, Center for Science in the Public Interest, Clean Production Action, Clean Water Action, Consumers Reports, Defend Our Health, Earthjustice, Ecology Center, Environmental Defense Fund, Environmental Working Group, the Food and Chemicals Alliance, Healthy Babies Bright Futures, Mind the Store, Natural Resources Defense Council
BPA Buyer Beware
We’re proud to say that many canned food makers are phasing out their use of BPA. Problem solved? Not exactly.
BCPP: Exposing the Cause is the Cure
We're preventing breast cancer before it starts by eliminating our exposure to toxic chemicals and radiation.