February 17, 2012, 6:18 pm
 Laura Sparkes Today Tonight

BPA is the hidden in chemical in many of our most common food and drink products, and a debate is raging about how harmful it is to our health.

It's so common, it's virtually impossible to avoid, unless you go to countries where it is banned.

There are many of them, but Australia is not one. Now a push is on to have BPA banned here.

BPA is the dangerous chemical hidden in everyday products, include brittle plastic containers, baby bottles, canned foods, and drinks.

Bisphenol A, better known as BPA, is banned in infant products in Canada, Japan, parts of Europe and the US, but not in Australia.

Some baby product manufacturers like Brother Max and Smart Baby have voluntarily banned BPA in their product, but it can be legally used in anything, including the resin linings of soft drinks, beer cans, and canned foods.

According to anti chemical campaigner Louise McCartney “often people think that's in your baked beans and your soups, and things like that, but let's not forget beer cans, and UDL cans, and there's a whole range of other things that BPA is actually found in.”

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McCartney chooses to live can free, and tries to find plastics labelled BPA free. New research indicates the chemical affects adults as well as babies.

Harvard professors have found eating canned soup once a day increases the level of BPA in humans by 1000 per cent.

The US Breast Cancer Fund found a single serving of canned food, like corn, green beans and evaporated milk, had harmful levels of BPA, but Food Standards Australia and New Zealand still refuses to ban the chemical.

GP and Environmental Medicine expert Dr Mark Donohue says three million tonnes of BPA is still produced each year, and studies have shown its constantly in our bodies.

“It’s an endocrine disrupter, so what that means in late pregnancy and childhood is that the hormones critical to brain development, and to the development of the child, are messed around by some foreign material. It just gets in the way, and that disturbs childhood development and brain function,” Dr Donohue said.

“We’re always lagging behind. Australia is halfway between first world and third world as far as the chemical industry is concerned. We always act conservatively and provide a good, rich market for many of these chemicals,” Dr Donohue continued.

“In tiny doses it’s not toxic, but because it’s everywhere, it’s highly toxic, and has a big effect on the population.”

Dr Donohue warns BPA is now linked with adult health problems like obesity, diabetes, heart disease and infertility.

“As the evidence of those things start to accumulate we now have evidence sufficient to say ‘here's the time to move’. Five years ago, maybe three years ago, the evidence was weak, but now it is really strong. Two years have made a big difference here.”

Toxicologist Dr Ian Musgrave disagrees, and thinks our health authorities have made the right decision.

“In cans of soup you would have to drink a hundred cans of soup in one day in order to reach the threshold or safety level that has been mandated by the Australian Food Safety,” he said.

Consumer group Choice found BPA in over 75 per cent of the canned foods it tested, including baby foods.

Because it’s not banned, manufacturers don’t have to disclose BPA in their products, so there's no way of knowing whether cans contain it or not. But the little number on the bottom of plastic goods is a giveaway.

“On the bottom you'll see a little triangle with a number seven in it. I would actually avoid those because it's most likely they've got BPA in them. Number three and number six I would avoid as well. It doesn't mean to say that all plastics are not good, but there are companies choosing to use stabilised plastics,” McCartney said.

Heinz and Simplot use BPA, but are now considering alternatives. Heinz has already phased it out of their canned baby foods.

Campbell's, however, didn't return our calls.

McCartney says there’s one sure-fire way to ensure she avoids any risk. “Anything you can get in a can today you can actually buy fresh. We've got access to good food, we've got access to plenty of fresh food, and I think it's so much more nutritious. We don't have the chemicals added, so back to basics.”