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Oct 272011

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

Campbell’s Soup, which I haven’t much thought about since eating grilled cheese sandwiches with a side of tomato soup while watching Bonanza, is suddenly in the news.

And the news is confusing.

Iconic Campbell's soup.

First, there’s Campbell’s at the top of the “Tomorrow’s Value Rating 2011”  which is a listing composed by Two Tomorrows of the top brands for sustainability which also promise strong performance for investors on Wall Street.

We like to think that these big companies can develop more sustainable ways. Campbell’s soup does sell some healthy stuff, like V8 juice and Wolfgang Puck concoctions. But the whole ranking thing looked a little soupy upon examination.

The Aaa rated companies included General Electric, whose sustainability plan apparently involves not paying its U.S. taxes, and Nestle, known for problems with BPA in the lining of its liquid baby formula and also for aggressively pushing its formula over healthier breastfeeding on women in developing nations.

Other companies in the top tier of the Two Tomorrows list, such as Nike and Siemens, seemed to belong there, having come out with strong sustainability initiatives. The Aa category included Ford, which has a lot of electric and hybrid vehicles in production, as well as UPS, Henkel, Cisco and Volkswagen, which all have strong green stories to tell.

But the Aa list also included Coca-Cola. Coke does support many environmental efforts. I want to like Coke, which also takes me back to those Bonanza days, when we drank “classic” coke, sometimes at the drugstore counter. (I know, I could be your mom!)

But let’s face it, this is a company that takes water that’s fundamentally very much like your tap water, encases it in a plastic bottle that’s likely to not get recycled (in fairness, Coke would like it to be recycled), and trucks it around to stores. And that’s not even mentioning its core business of selling as much sweetened water as possible in countries where water is scarce or in the case of the U.S., diabetes is rife.

While I was thinking about what a sticky mess this is, trying to rate companies for their sustainability value while tip-toeing through prickly fields of social responsibility issues, up pops Campbell’s again.

Campbell’s, that champion of sustainability, is taking heat for using cans lined with a resin that contains Bisphenol A or BPA, a plastic component that’s been linked to cancer, diabetes and developmental issues among growing boys and girls.

BPA-containing resin is used in food cans because it helps retain the integrity of the steel against acidic ingredients, like tomato soup. But there are substitute linings that can be used.

Eden Organics, which sells a variety of canned beans, has always used an alternative lining, to keep its contents chemical free.

Muir Organics has begun using BPA-free cans. Muir and Eden also bottle tomatoes in glass jars, which averts the problem of keeping acidic interactions because the glass is inert. Glass is also completely recyclable; thought worth throwing into the mix.

Andy Warhol liked Campbell's.

Other companies, such as Hain Celestial, H.J. Heinz, and ConAgra–owner of brands like Chef Boyardee and Hunt’s–have announced plans to remove BPA from food packaging and have started using BPA-free can linings for some of their products, according to Healthy Child Healthy World, which has begun an online campaign on Change.org. asking Campbell’s to get the BPA out.

Campbell’s is aware of the debate, and is looking at options, but the company does not consider the BPA in food cans to be harmful, says Anthony Sanzio, vice president of communications.

“For over 40 years, the U.S. FDA has permitted the use of BPA in food packaging. Other expert regulatory authorities including a World Health Organization expert panel and the European Food Safety Authority extensively reviewed the safety of BPA, and supported its continued use,” Sanzio said. “Based on the science generated and reviewed by the world’s food safety organizations, we are confident that BPA is safe. If we thought BPA was unsafe, we would not use it.”

Healthy Child Healthy World, Los Angeles-based non-profit that helps parents protect kids from toxic chemicals, has not been persuaded. The group is challenging Campbell’s because BPA, an endocrine-disruptor, has been shown in numerous studies to be harmful to growing bodies, and possibly linked to fertility issues and cancers, particularly involving the reproductive system.

The Breast Cancer Fund was already on the case, publishing a study that found BPA in several cans of foods aimed at kids made by Campbell’s and other brands.

The BPA is a problem, the group asserts, is a special problem for kids and cites a report showing that the toxic additive continues to turn up in canned goods (with tomatoes), such as Campbell’s “Disney Princess Cool Shapes” soup and “SpaghettiOs with Meatballs.”

Of course, that begs the question of what’s actually in those meatballs.

(Campbell’s Sanzio notes that the company is concerned about the safety and health of its products. You can read more about Campbell’s Soup’s nutritional talking points on the company website.)

Copyright © 2011 Green Right Now | Distributed by GRN Network