BPA-free Labeling Causes Consumers to Overlook Possible Danger of Chemical's Substitute
BPA-free typically is implied to be a good thing. While BPA is not regulated, studies have labeled the chemical, Bisphenol A, used to make certain kinds of plastics, as potentially harmful. But what happens when BPA is removed? What is used in its place?
According to a recent study, when BPA is removed, it is often replaced with other, less-studied chemicals. Therefore, the health implications of those chemicals aren't known.
According to a University of Michigan Risk Science Center article, the chemical is often found in plastic bottles, canned food liners and cash register receipts, but studies have shown high exposure to BPA can potentially lead to a variety of health problems, such as liver and kidney damage, as well as reproductive, nervous, immune, metabolic and cardiovascular system impacts.
Public opinion of the substance has resulted in a push to remove it from all products, resulting in BPA-free labels. Whether its substitution is better or worse was researched in a paper entitled, "The Psychology of 'Regrettable Substitution': Examining Consumer Judgements of Bisphenol A and Its Alternatives," which was published in the Journal Health Risk and Society.
Researchers presented study participants with a choice between two cans of tomatoes—one containing BPA and the other containing a substitute of PET, which has an unknown risk, according to the article. While there wasn't a preference for which was safer in general, the wording "BPA-free" did cause more participants to feel more accepting of that corresponding product.
"In other words, the findings indicate that labels like this are misleading, and are likely to cause some people to accept substitute chemicals that they might otherwise reject," Andrew Maynard, one of the researchers in the study, wrote in the University of Michigan article. "… It indicates that labeling a product as being free of a particular chemical leads to a lack of consideration over the risks potentially presented by substitute materials. And it suggests that care needs to be taken in how evidence and risk are communicated if substitutions aren’t to become regrettable substitutions—whether making decisions on BPA, or any other substance where there is some element or doubt over risk and safety."