The following is Part Two of a two-article series. (1)
Let's say that you form a group whose sole purpose is to lobby the government for the right to build and manage a toll booth on a highway that never had one before.
But, all of the revenue from the booth will be used to: (1) Pay for the construction of the booth; (2) Pay for the maintenance of the booth; (3) Pay the salaries of people who run it.
Who wins, and who loses?
Motorists lose. They not only have to pay a toll, but also also waste time waiting in line to do so. The government breaks even; it neither spent any money to build the booth, nor gets any revenue from it. The road is not improved.
But the group that builds and maintains the booth, as well as the people who work for the them will do just fine.
Perhaps every few years, the group will decide that the design of the booth isn't quite right. It needs to be safer. So, they build a new one.
In real life, the toll collectors are the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and other ethically-challenged environmental groups, the faux-organic Whole Foods' of the world, academics who need continued funding, and Internet shysters, all of whom benefit from a toll booth that serves no other purpose.
They have convinced much of the public that the toll gate will protect them from the deadly chemicals (which inevitably end up being nothing of the sort) that are poisoning us all. So, we toss a quarter in the basket every day. But, in this case, it's not a basket. It's a can.
I recently wrote about a victory for the anti-science crowd, which forced food giants Campbell's and ConAgra to run away from BPA-based can liners like a coked-up gazelle being chased by a hungry lion.
Plastic can liners are used for a reason. They prevent food from spoiling by: (1) enduring the conditions, such as heat and high pressure, that permit food to be sterilized; (2) preventing leaks that may expose the food to air and microbes that can cause food spoilage and poisoning; (3) protecting the metal can from the food (acidic foods, such as tomatoes degrade metal). Modern canning technology has almost entirely eliminated botulism poisoning . So, if BPA is going to be tossed out of one can into a different type of can, something is going to have to take its place.
This is not so easy. A recent attempt to go BPA-free blew up in Whole Foods' face, when a similar chemical called BPS was used as a substitute, simply for the purpose of having "BPA-free" signs in every aisle.
Science notwithstanding, consumers are now demanding that their food be sealed with something other than BPA (which has been used for more than 50 years). This has companies feverishly scrambling to find a solution to a problem that doesn't exist.
The following table summarizes some of the alternative to BPA that are now being examined.
It is immediately obvious that no perfect solution exists. Epoxy resins (first row) look pretty good, but keep in mind that BPA is used to make two types of plastic. One of these is an epoxy resin. (Irony drum roll, please.)
The other alternatives have strengths and weaknesses, such as physical and chemical stability, ease of manufacturing and environmental impact. Some of this is actually rather amusing.
According to a recent article in Chemical and Engineering News, a consortium of consumer and environmental groups purchased 192 cans of food, and analyzed the chemical composition of the liners.
Not surprisingly, of the 192 cans, 129 used BPA epoxy resins. But other chemicals were detected, including styrene acrylics, polyvinyl chloride (PVC), and oleoresins — all of which have been constantly criticized by NRDC (!), for example, here, here, and here.
Get ready for the next toll booth. It is already being designed.
Additionally, a 2013 article, also in Chemical and Engineering News, discusses in greater depth some of the problems with these substitutes, such as unpleasant odors, cracking and peeling off the metal.
Perhaps the best summary of this "chemical liner hamster wheel" comes from Daniel F. Schmidt, an associate professor of plastics engineering at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell: "I would be willing to bet that all of these alternatives are either lower performing, more expensive, or both, versus the usual BPA-based epoxies."
Better get your quarters ready.
(1) This is the second of an article series that examine the faulty science behind bisphenol-A (BPA) scares. The first, "Campbell’s Replaces BPA in Cans; Science, Marketing or Hysteria?" focused on the reasons that companies are being forced compelled to abandon a long-used method of keeping canned food safe.