BPA gets attention from industry spinmeisters (leaked minutes)

We've had occasion to write about the endocrine noise-maker bisphenol-A (BPA) quote a few times (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here for starters). The word about BPA has gotten to consumers and they have fled BPA-containing products like they are swine flu carriers. Meanwhile the scientific evidence is piling up and what the market hasn't done will likely bring BPA into the cross-hairs of food safety regulations, if not via the FDA then by state and local governments, some of which have already acted.

So it looks like the writing is on the wall for BPA unless the food packaging industry can reverse the trend. They can't fight it on science, so they are desperately casting about for the right set of lies. It's not easy, as we learn from these leaked minutes of a private meeting held Thursday about "potential communication/media strategies around BPA" at an exclusive Washington, DC social club (The Cosmos Club). This is a peek behind the curtain and it's not pretty. The document has been verified as authentic:

Meeting Minutes

North American Metal Packaging Alliance, Inc.

May 28, 2009, 10:00 a.m. - 3:10 p.m. EDT
RE: BPA Joint Trade Association Meeting on Communications Strategy
Meeting Goal: Develop potential communication/media strategies around BPA

Discussion Topics: Consideration of available web-based communication options, including targeted geographies, as well as mainstream media response

Attending Companies: Coca-Cola, Alcoa, Crown, North American Metal Packaging Alliance, Inc., Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), American Chemistry Council, Del Monte

Summary: Attendees discussed the need to be more proactive in communications to media, legislators, and the general public to protect industries that use BPA, prolong the life of BPA, put risks from chemicals in proper prospective, and transcend the media and the blogosphere. Attendees believe a balance of legislative and grassroots outreach (to young mothers ages 21-35 and students) is imperative to the stability of their industry; however, the association members continue to struggle to initiate research and develop a clear-cut plan to defend their industry. The committee will spend approximately $500,000 to develop a survey on consumer BPA perceptions and messaging and eventually content and outreach materials. Overall, the committee seemed disorganized, and its members frustrated. Lack of direction from the committee and these associations could continue to allow other associations and environmental groups to push BPA out.

Other Points: Attendees suggested using fear tactics (e.g. “Do you want to have access to baby food anymore?”) as well as giving control back to consumers (e.g. you have a choice between the more expensive product that is frozen or fresh or foods packaged in cans) as ways to dissuade people from choosing BPA-free packaging. Attendees noted, in the past, the different associations have had a reactive strategy with the media, with very limited proactive outreach in reaching out to journalists. The committee agrees they need to promote new, relevant content to get the BPA perspective into the media mix. The committee believes industry studies are tainted from the public perspective.

The committee doubts social media outlets, such as Facebook or Twitter, will work for positive BPA outreach. The committee wants to focus on quality instead of quantity in disseminating messages (e.g. a young kid or pregnant mother providing a positive quote about BPA, a testimonial from an outside expert, providing positive video, advice from third party experts, and relevant messaging on the GMA website). Members noted traditional media outreach has become too expensive (they have already spent hundreds of thousands of dollars) and the media is starting to ignore their side. The committee doubts obtaining a scientific spokesperson is attainable. Their “holy grail” spokesperson would be a “pregnant young mother who would be willing to speak around the country about the benefits of BPA.”

Eventually, the committee concluded before deciding on the tactics to spread their messages, they need to develop the messages. The committees plan to fund a joint survey and message testing—what new messages they need to sell—before implementing a website and creating materials. Another task group will be implemented to finalize how to develop messages and aggressively use electronic media to deliver those messages.

Members noted the industry needs research on how perceptions of BPA are translating into consumer behavior—Is it translating into most moms not buying canned products or just a minority of moms? They hope to form messages relevant to how people live their lives—What does not having BPA mean to your daily lifestyle? Focusing on the impact of BPA bans on minorities (Hispanic and African American) and poor is also important. The members want to put the danger of BPA into perspective.

Legislatively, the committee is focusing on Connecticut and California. Committee members are meeting with as many representatives on the Health Committee as possible. The members are focusing on more legislative battles and befriending people that are able to manipulate the legislative process. They believe a grassroots and legislative approach is favorable because the legislators worry about how the moms will react. If the Connecticut bill goes through, the committee believes it will be a good opportunity to talk about the negative impact that ban will have on businesses and employment—How will it affect the union workers? The committee wants to put a proposal together for the right way to deal with legislative issues in each state.

The committee discussed Prop 65 in California—requiring the Governor to publish, at least annually, a list of chemicals known to the state to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity. The committee will form a coalition to write a submission about the benefits of using BPA by the deadline for submissions on June 30, 2009. Members will also build up their contact base in Sacramento. The committee does not want to win at the legislative level and then not have anyone to buy the product.

The committee questioned whether or not trade associations should challenge what is being said about BPA. Other trade associations for plastics have begun writing letters in response to “lies” being told about BPA. The committee proposed to be involved in the dialog and comment electronically and directly back to reporters. Attendees noted it does not matter what the next material is, there will be issues with it, and the committee wants to work to make people feel more comfortable with BPA and “BPA2” or whatever chemical comes next.

The committee suggested dividing the costs of the work and research equally by the members. The members are guesstimating it will cost at least $200,000 for the message testing and the survey and $500,000 for the entire project. The committee is also looking for new members to help with costs and outreach.

More like this

Nice find. Can't say I'm surprised though. These guys will always turn to an ad campaign over constructive engagement with stakeholders or (shock) looking for a lower-toxicity or non-toxic alternative for preserving canned foods.

It's interesting that you don't see them reaching out to the big plastics manufacturers. The plastics manufacturers might have a parallel effort, or the food container market isn't a big loss to them. It would be interesting to know which, because that might help proponents of a BPA ban in food containers practice a divide and conquer strategy. A total ban on BPA use might not be necessary to have some effective exposure reduction - just phasing out uses such as food containers and dental appliances. I wonder if anyone has done that homework yet (the EU's risk assessment may be a good starting place).

One saving grace is that these guys don't seem to get social marketing techniques or Web 2.0. Maybe that will slow down the message a bit.

9 out of 10 doctors recommend Camels for good health...

By anonny mouse (not verified) on 31 May 2009 #permalink

The committee doubts obtaining a scientific spokesperson is attainable.

Wow. That really says it all, doesn't it. That and the quotation marks they put around "lies".

I was going to ask what they could line cans with besides BPA, but with them already plotting "BPA2", I'm not sure I'd trust any alternatives more. Dammit. Canned foods can be damn handy, especially for long term storage... and sometimes the only option. (I've been unable to find dried chickpeas in the grocery store, for example.)

I guess my next questions are, does BPA leech more into acidic foods (like tomatoes), and is it used in the linings of #10 cans of dried foods (like flour or beans)?

I'm so pleased that I can most of our tomato sauces, fruits and applesauce-- and that my kids didn't get much milk except in glass bottles. Plastics have never felt right, though the rigid plastics felt "more right" than the soft ones which shows how easily one is fooled. Great posts on this stuff revere. Thanks!

By Speechless (not verified) on 31 May 2009 #permalink

Companies often hide behind blandly named trade associations like this one to mount public relations and lobbying campaigns opposing health and safety legislation like bills banning BPA from food product containers.

So if you're disgusted by these steps, and the idea of a campaign based upon "fear tactics" with a pregnant young mother as a BPA spokesperson, contact the member companies of the North American Metal Packaging Alliance: AkzoNobel, Alcoa, American Beverage Association, Ball Corporation, Can Corporation of America, Can Manufacturers Institute, The Coca-Cola Company, Crown Corporation, The Dow Chemical Company, H. J. Heinz, Hexion Specialty Chemicals, Inc., Huntsman LLC, INX International Ink Co., Novelis, PPG Industries, Inc., Silgan Containers Corporation, Valspar Packaging Americas and Watson Standard Company.

This is the profit motive for you, there.

BPA is apparently still considered "safe" in the EU, and use of it here is extensive. Anyone here have any idea how one pushed for reconsideration in EU states?

By Luna_the_cat (not verified) on 03 Jun 2009 #permalink

You should really mark your satire as such, because apparently the people who come to this site aren't intelligent enough to recognize it.

Also, if it's true that "The word about BPA has gotten to consumers and they have fled BPA-containing products like they are swine flu carriers", then that proves that the market works and regulation is unnecessary. If it's not true, then this is just another example of the few trying to impose their moral values on the many.

Hopefully any action will be by state and local governments and not the FDA. That at least would limit the damage done by such moral busybodies who can't tolerate the idea that someone, somewhere, isn't listening to them.

JohnJ: LOL. I guess you'd know, since you have a satire site of your own.

Hi Luna,

Regulation in the EU about these matters is made after seeking scientific opinions from EFSA (European Food Standards Agency), latest one is from 2008 and concludes that data is insuficient to support the claim hazardness of this food contaminant. There is criticism which you may find easily on the web about the criteria used to select the scientific papers from which to draw such opinion.
These panels from EFSA meet periodically. However, if public opinion was such as to disturb the peace in the European Comission in Brussels, they could press EFSA for an immediate review...

What is quite amusing for me, from a cynical point of view of course, working in the food industry, is that the BSE crisis forced the EC to adopt the "precautionary principle" in its 2000 white paper (or was it a green paper?) when aproaching potential foodborne hazards, this meaning that, if data is inconclusive but the hazard plausible, then measures should be implemented to address the risk.
This is the principle behind the ban or moratorium in GM foods in Europe or the ban in the use of hormone growth promoters in the lifestock industry.

By Lowlander (not verified) on 05 Jun 2009 #permalink

There are a couple of points in those meeting notes which make the participants in the meeting sound just a little thick. First, doesn't baby food also come packaged in glass jars? I won't swear to this these days - my kids are grown and it's been 15 years since I've actually paid any attention to the baby-food aisle in the store. Also, I'd swear they really don't understand what are the health concerns about BPA, because a "pregnant young mother" isn't the spokesman they're looking for. What they're really looking for is a nice heading-towards-middle-age mom with an honors student in high school who could say for them, "look, we've eaten food from cans lined with epoxy resins and drunk out of polycarbonate bottles, and my kid gets good grades and I don't have breast cancer."

JLowe: Actually, in the market place it's the young moms that are killing them. My daughter went out and bought glass baby bottles without even asking me if I thought it was necessary (she knows what I do for a living, after all), and it is her age group (yong moms) that drink out of water bottles all day long. So they have the right age group, I think.

Im with JohnL. We need to get Bjorn Lomborg on this case. Again, it's these hysterical environmentalists who are out to get the people! How many poor mothers will not be able to afford baby food is BPA gets banned? You ought to see how expensive baby food is in Europe! Already these mothers cannot afford cigarettes because of the same kind of smear campaign. If we have to have government on our backs, let's have the more manipulable state governments where campaign contributions are cheaper. California is a real possibility. The Schwartz is with the force out in the Golden State (he just got the oil companies big tax breaks, and in the middle of the worst budget times in our lifetime). This guy is a real savior of big business. He know how to protect the people from the evil democrat party.


I can't tell if that's satire or not. At all.

By James Stein (not verified) on 18 Jun 2009 #permalink

More here, starting at that link and following


-- pointers to a PR-spin 'journalist advice' site about statistics that's arguing that BPA is not a problem, and documentation of a large BPP industry investment in PR, including fake bloggers.

Science bloggers -- any chance y'all can come up with a cross-index among yourselves on this sort of issue?

Your writing is scattered and disorganized work by scientists, opposed to a many-headed and well organized work in progress by industry.

By Hank Roberts (not verified) on 06 Sep 2009 #permalink