Thursday, April 24, 2008

Banning the Bottle

Last week, the Hon. Tony Clement, Minister of Health, and the Hon. John Baird, Minister of the Environment announced that the Government of Canada is taking action to protect the health of Canadians and the environment from another chemical of concern.

The target is bisphenol-A (BPA), an endocrine disrupting chemical that has been associated with alterations in brain chemistry and structure, behaviour, the immune system and male and female reproductive systems. BPA is also suspected of promoting breast cancer.

Canada is the first country in the world to complete a risk assessment of BPA, a chemical used primarily in hard plastic beverage containers such as water and baby bottles. The federal government has chosen to focus on baby bottles because infants are at greatest potential risk from the chemical. A 60-day public comment period will determine whether the government should ban the importation, sale and advertising of polycarbonate baby bottles and infant formula cans which contain BPA.

At the press conference held to announce the government's action, the two ministers smiled happily as they handed out BPA-free bottles to young babies. In an interview following the conference, Health Minister Clement talked about our growing awareness of environmental hazards. He even shared his own memories of heating baby formula in BPA bottles for each of his three children.

There is something seriously wrong with all of this. First, as this country's federal health minister, the Hon. Mr. Clement should be well aware that handing out baby bottles is a serious violation of the World Health Organization's (WHO) International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes. The Code was developed and endorsed by the WHO in 1981, specifically to prevent the marketing of breast-milk substitutes, bottles, teats and other bottle-feeding paraphernalia. The reason for the ban, according to the WHO's own estimates, is that 1.5 million babies die every year simply because they are not breast fed.

Secondly, as our federal Health Minister, Mr. Clement should also know that since 2004, Health Canada has recommended exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life. Handing out bottles to five-month old babies is contrary to this recommendation.

Thirdly, under Article 4 of the International Code, governments have a responsibility to ensure that the public receives consistent information on the benefits of breastfeeding. Distributing baby bottles is counter-productive to the message that breast is best.

Fourthly, as our environment minister, Mr. Baird should be aware that the formula industry is responsible for tonnes of avoidable garbage - mountains of formula cans, disposable bottles and other related packaging.

It is unconscionable that our federal government has taken what should have been an excellent opportunity to protect infant health and promote environmental responsibility and turned it into a photo opportunity to promote the formula industry. According to Health Canada's own statement, the government will be working with industry to develop alternative food packaging.

This is outrageous. Why is the government spending our tax dollars to help support a multi-billion dollar industry that makes its profits from replacing nature's most perfect food for babies? More importantly, why isn't every Canadian banging on the door of his or her MP's office, demanding an answer to this question?

The infant feeding industry doesn't need our help. A number of water bottle manufacturers made the move away from BPA bottles last year, independent of any government financial assistance or 60-day grace period.

At the retail level, Mountain Equipment Co-op announced last December that it had pulled all BPA bottles off its store shelves and had replaced them with durable, non-breakable aluminum bottles. Prior to last week's announcement, many other retails chains had followed suit, including Canadian Tire, Hudson Bay Companies, The Forzani Group, Sears Canada and Home Depot.

We have the evidence. BPA should be banned and the formula industry should be forced, at its own expense, to come up with an environmentally safe alternative that meets independent standards. This is simply the cost of doing a very dirty business.


For more on the dangers of formula feeding and benefits of breastfeeding, visit

Health Canada’s recommendation regarding breastfeeding are posted at

For more information about the government’s action on BPA, visit or call 1-866-891-4542.

The report, Smart Plastics Guide – Healthier Food Uses of Plastics for Parents and Children is available from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.


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