Use of bisphenol A threatening companies' shareholder value, says investor coalition

By Rory Harrington

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Bpa, Food and drug administration

A coalition of investors has warned the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that continued use of bisphenol A (BPA) in packaging may threaten the shareholder value of food and beverage companies.

The group also said the FDA finding that BPA was safe combined with a lack of federal regulation had disincentivised companies from finding alternatives – despite many wishing to do so.

Letter to FDA

The alliance of 27 financiers, representing over $26 billion in assets, issued the warning in a letter to FDA commissioner Dr Margaret Hamburg this week as it applauded her decision for the agency to reassess the safety of the chemical. The group, which included investment advisory companies, foundations, and shareholder advocacy groups, urged the FDA to “ensure that sound independent, unbiased science is used to reach its final assessment” of the safety of BPA.

BPA is used in can linings and hard plastics and there is growing concern that its leaching into food can cause harm. Numerous studies have linked the chemical to illnesses including cancer and diabetes, although food safety agencies in the US and Europe have given the substance the all clear.

Threat to shareholders

Green Century Capital Management, the driving force behind the letter, said: “As investors, we’re concerned that the use of BPA, particularly in food and beverage packaging, may threaten shareholder value. Companies may face reputational, competitive, or market exclusion risks from using BPA. We are thrilled that the FDA is reconsidering its assessment.”

The letter from the coalition was signed, by among others, representatives from Trillium Asset Management, of Boston; Northwest Coalition for Responsible Investment, Seattle; Boston Common Asset Management and Goodfunds Wealth Management, Seattle.

The letter said that many of the signatories were members of the Investor Environmental Health Network (IEHN) and had been discussing BPA with food and beverage companies, packaging companies, retailers, chemical companies, and other stakeholders in the BPA supply chain for many years.

“Several of us have published reports analyzing the use of BPA in the food and beverage sector, the emerging market for alternatives to BPA, and the financial and other risks associated with using potentially harmful chemicals such as BPA,” continued the group.

No incentive to change

The letter went on to question the impartiality of the FDA’s 2007 opinion that BPA was safe, citing criticisms the agency had relied too heavily on reports produced by industry players in arriving at its conclusions. They said the FDA assessment was the fact most often cited by companies as the reason for the lack of market movement towards substitute materials.

“Based on discussions that some of us have had with numerous companies that use BPA, it is clear to us that the FDA’s assessment of safety and the lack of federal regulation contribute to industry’s ongoing use of the chemical, declared the coalition,"​ said the investors group.

“Some of us have heard from companies that they would prefer to move towards BPA alternatives, but they state that the lack of regulation by the federal government creates disincentives for companies to invest in the research, development, and deployment of alternatives,”​ it added.

IEHN executive director Richard Liroff said: “It seems that every week brings news of yet another scientific research finding adding to the evidence that BPA is hazardous. The FDA should act expeditiously to align its regulatory guidance with the burgeoning science; this will provide a strong signal to the marketplace to speed the transition to safer alternatives.”

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