Campbell's Soup Co. has announced that it soon will stop using the notorious chemical bisphenol-A, or BPA, in the linings of its cans, the Environmental Working Group reports. The move comes as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is poised to decide by March 31 whether to ban the chemical's use in all food and beverage packaging, as well as a decision by French lawmakers late last month to uphold a ban on BPA in all packaged foods. That decision is likely to lead to EU-wide legislation banning BPA, which would make it difficult for Campbell's and other U.S. food companies that use BPA to sell their foodstuffs abroad. (The Natural Resources Defense Council had to sue the FDA to get the agency off its, er, can. To date, the FDA has maintained that BPA does not pose a health threat at the levels at which it appears in canned and packaged foods. Many scientists and public health advocates, however, disagree.)

Although the company has not announced a specific timeline or released any further details of its BPA-free commitment, at a February shareholders meeting, Campbell's chief financial officer Craig Owens reported that the shift to BPA-free cans had already begun.

As we reported last September, a study by the Breast Cancer Fund found Campbell's soup to have some of the highest BPA levels among a variety of canned foods it tested, and some of the highest levels were in foods marketed to children, such as Spaghetti-O's and soups with fun shapes in them (Campbell's Disney Princess and Toy Story soups had the most). BPA, used to make hard, clear plastic, has been linked in human and animal studies to heart disease, early-onset puberty, behavioral problems, diabetes and breast and prostate cancer.

In March 2007, EWG published a study documenting that BPA had leached from epoxy can linings into more than half of the canned foods, beverages and liquid infant formula randomly purchased at supermarkets around the country.

Last October, a study from the Harvard School of Public Health published in the journal Pediatrics linked exposure to BPA during pregnancy to hyperactive, depressive and anxious behavior in young girls, finding that the higher the mothers' BPA levels, the more likely the girls were to exhibit behavior problems as toddlers.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found detectable levels of BPA in the urine of 93 percent of Americans over the age of 6. So pervasive is the chemical, recent studies have found it in umbilical cord blood.

“When the world's largest soup maker moves to remove BPA from its cans, that sends a signal to the rest of the food and beverage industry to do the same,” said Jane Houlihan, Environmental Working Group senior vice president for research.

However, “To truly be an industry leader, the company now needs to fully disclose the timeline for the phase-out and the alternatives that will be used,” Gretchen Lee Salter, policy manager at the Breast Cancer Fund, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Chemical makers maintain that BPA is safe for all use. However, major baby-bottle manufacturers stopped using the chemical in 2008, and 11 states, including California, have banned BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups. Canada, the European Union and Turkey have banned the chemical in baby bottles. Japan has replaced BPA in all can liners.

U.S. brands that do not use BPA include Eden Foods, Muir Glen, Edward & Son, Trader Joe's, Vital Choice, Wild Planet Foods, Oregon's Choice Gourmet and Eco Fish. Heinz, Hain Celestial Group and ConAgra also have announced that they are moving away from using BPA in their packaging.

Thanks, Campbell's. There goes that delicious plastic aftertaste.

Follow Samantha Bonar @samanthabonar.

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