Many people in the can food business fell from their chairs on March 14 and why is that.
BPA is Bisphenol A, an organic carbon compound and key building block for polycarbonate and epoxy resins. BPA itself is toxic and linked to cancer, erectile dysfunction and other health issues. Polycarbonate bottles are deemed not safe because of their tendency to leak BPA into the contents the bottles hold. On March 14, Health Minister Liow Tiong Lai announced a ban on polycarbonate milk bottles nationwide because these bottles contained BPA. The ban was not immediate but from March 1, 2012 onwards- this went against the grain of the Malaysian public who called for an immediate ban instead of a delayed ban.
But why are the can industry people sitting up? How is this related to the ban of baby milk bottles?
BPA is the main compound in epoxy resin which in turn is the main material in protective coatings in our can food and drinks. All food and drink cans have a thin protective coating which is sprayed on the inside and outside during production of the can. Epoxy resin has been around in cans since nearly 50 years ago and it is the best ingredient to bond the protective spray to the can while providing resilient protection. The outer layer of the spray protects the dye (i.e can printings) while the inside spray prevents the usually acidic food or drink contents from attacking the aluminium cans. This makes cans one of the best effective methods to preserve and contain food and drink. However the problem is there is a slight migration of BPA (i.e. leakage or seeping) from the can-coatings to the food or drink pack. No one dies from a single can of soda of course, but it is a life-long issue- how many cans of tuna or coke have you consumed in your life-time so far? You can check out the scary findings here.
So again, on the question why the can industry people are sitting up. The can industry people, mainly comprising of chemists and sales employees, have known the BPA issue for a long, long time. As we know, the delayed ban of milk bottles in 2012 is purely due to commercial reasons. And for the same commercial reasons, local can-coatings producers and can makers will be quite afraid of a sudden public scare. No doubt that all the can-coatings producers in Malaysia are multinational players but the can-coating industry is throat- cutting and fragile- can-coatings are mainly shipped in liquid form in one-tonne barrels and sold in low-commodity-like prices. Any slowdown in canned food and drinks will deeply impact on can maker production lines which will in turn whack the can-coatings industry.
The Health Ministry will be taking one slow step at a time on this one. For one, not all main players in the international market have a replacement product for epoxy-based coatings (a related report is here). The replacement chemical is still new and is not as resilient as epoxy resin. It will be some time before all can food and drinks are BPA-free. For now, if there is a public concern on canned food or drinks relating to BPA the can-makers together with the can-coatings people will certainly rely on the Government like the baby milk bottle makers.