Hydroponics and Bisphenol-A (BPA) in packaging

March 29, 2017

National Organic Standards Board
1400 Independence Avenue, SW Room 2648-So, Ag Stop 0268
Washington, DC 20250-0268

Docket ID # AMS-NOP-16-0100

Dear NOSB members,

PCC Natural Markets is the largest consumer-owned U.S. grocery retailer with more than 56,000 active member-owner households. Our commitment to organics is built into our Ends Policy, which states that our overall purpose is to create an environment where the organic supply chain can thrive.

We maintain certification as an organic handler and processor for our produce, meat and seafood, bulk grocery, deli cheese, and espresso departments to ensure organic integrity is maintained to the shopper’s cart. Ninety-five percent of the produce we sell is organic and organic skus account for a bit more than 50 percent of total units sold storewide. We have worked for 30 years to support organic standards that meet consumer expectations.

We appreciate the opportunity to comment on two topics:

  1. Hydroponics
  2. Bisphenol A (BPA) in packaging


Consumers demand transparency and full disclosure in labeling how a food is produced. Labeling hydroponically grown foods should be no exception.

Hydroponic, aquaponic, and aeroponic growers should adopt their own identifying label claims that inform consumers a food was grown in a soil-less system. Anything short of full and forthright transparency inhibits the consumer’s right to an informed choice and is misleading.

Soil-less systems do not fit legally within the organic framework of the Organic Food Production Act (OFPA), unless or until OFPA is changed to eliminate the fundamental requirement to foster soil fertility. We see this in OFPA §6513 (b) (1), “An organic plan shall contain provisions designed to foster soil fertility, primarily through the management of the organic content of the soil through proper tillage, crop rotation, and manuring.”

We support NOSB’s fall 2016 resolution that “the foundation of organic agriculture is based upon a systems approach to producing food in the natural environment, which respects the complex dynamic interaction between soil, water, air, sunlight, plants and animals needed to produce a thriving agro-ecosystem.”

We agree with the resolution that “the heart of the organic philosophy is the belief that our responsibilities of good stewardship go beyond production of healthy foods, and include protection of natural resources, biodiversity and the ecosystem services upon which we all depend…”

Growing healthy food arguably cannot be done in a vacuum and does little, if anything, for sustainability or protection or improvement of resources. Certainly, growing food with artificial lights in a building, with little or no fresh air or sunlight, and non-soil substitutes does not enhance biodiversity, biological cycles, soil biological activity, or ecosystems as a whole.

We support NOSB’s suggested language to amend §205.105 so that aeroponics, aquaponics and hydroponics are prohibited methods of production for organic certification. Non-regenerative models should not be shoe-horned into a framework that was designed intentionally to exclude them. Soil-less systems may be innovative and productive but we do not see them meeting the letter or spirit of OFPA or organic rules.

We tentatively agree that some bioponic container-based systems could be compatible, if nutrients are recycled to feed the soil, if grown with natural sunlight, if pollinators have access, and if there are regenerative practices supporting continual improvement of a natural ecosystem.

In such cases, consumers might find it acceptable for labels to declare, “Container grown organic” or “Greenhouse grown organic.” Transparency and full disclosure at the point of sale is key.

Bisphenol A (BPA) in packaging

We asked NOSB a year ago, in April 2016, to support a resolution and guidance to inform manufacturers that food contact materials associated with consumer health and safety concerns, such as hormone-disrupting bisphenols, must be prohibited from use with organic foods. We are pleased to see this topic in a discussion document now and thank you very much for the response.

BPA, BPS (and other toxicants in packaging, such as phthalates, perfluorinated compounds, PVC and styrene) are very much a consumer concern. We have answered many shopper concerns about food contact.

PCC Natural Markets switched to a BPA-free receipt tape in 2010 and in 2014 to an even safer receipt paper using vitamin C thermal developers approved by the Food and Drug Administration for oral and topical use by animals and humans.

PCC also has drafted and is close to adopting packaging standards for the foods we make and sell. Our proposal would prohibit not only bisphenols from packaging but also phthalates, perfluorinated compounds, polyvinyl chloride, and styrene.

Hundreds of scientific studies have linked extremely small amounts of BPA, measured in parts per billion and even parts per trillion, to an increased risk of breast and prostate cancer, infertility, type-2 diabetes, obesity, asthma and behavioral changes, including attention deficit disorder. The data indicate people are exposed to BPA from canned foods at levels that are compromising our health.

Research demonstrates that removing BPA from food packaging significantly reduces the levels of BPA in people. A peer-reviewed study conducted by the Breast Cancer Fund and Silent Spring Institute and published in Environmental Health Perspectives (2011) documented an average decrease of 66 percent in BPA levels when study participants were provided food that had not come in contact with BPA-containing food packaging, such as canned food and edibles packaged in polycarbonate plastic.

Given the principle outlined by §205.272 “Commingling and Contact with Prohibited Substance Prevention Practice Standard” that requires organic handlers to prevent contact between organic products and non-organic products or prohibited substances, a prohibition against contact with known carcinogens and hormone disruptors is wholly in line with organic principles.

Please see the 64-page report released by The Breast Cancer Fund in March 2016, “Buyer Beware: Toxic BPA and Regrettable Substitutes Found in the Linings of Canned Foods.” A coalition of food safety and consumer organizations tested more than 200 canned food brands, including many sold at PCC stores. “The findings were alarming,” it says.

“We expected that the explosion in consumer demand for BPA-free pack¬aging would have resulted in swifter action by canned food brands and retailers. However, 67 percent of the cans tested (129 out of 192) contained BPA-based epoxy in the body and/or the lid… Analysis showed that, across the board, canned food manufacturers both large and small are not making good on their promises to discon¬tinue use of BPA.” 100 percent of Campbell’s canned foods, 71 percent of Del Monte cans, and 50 percent of the sampled General Mills cans tested positive for BPA-based epoxy resins.

The good news was that Amy’s Kitchen, Annie’s Homegrown, Hain Celestial, and ConAgra had transitioned fully away from BPA and disclosed the BPA alternatives they’re using. No BPA-based epoxy resins were detected in any cans tested from these brands. No BPA was detected in any Eden foods, either. Amy’s Kitchen and Eden Foods furthermore label their foods BPA-free.

The investigation identified concerns that brands could be replacing BPA-based epoxy with regrettable substitutes. 18 percent of retailers’ private-label foods and 36 percent of national brands were lined with a PVC-based copolymer. This is a most regrettable substitute since PVC is made from vinyl chloride, a known carcinogen.

Similarly, many acrylic linings included poly¬styrene, a plastic made from styrene, considered a possible human carcinogen. Investigators found 39 percent of cans had a polysty¬rene-acrylic combination. Data is not publicly available to indicate what levels migrate from can linings into food. For other coating types, the lack of safety data and unknown additives mean we have no reliable data attesting to the safety of those compounds.

Given the limited FDA review and approval of packaging additives and the highly protected trade secrets in the sector, identifying the safety of BPA alternatives is challenging. There is very little data in published literature on the health impacts of BPA epoxy replacements, nor is this data publicly available from FDA.

We support the recommendations of the “Buyer Beware” report. For NOSB purposes, these recommendations include:

1. A commitment to eliminate and safely substitute BPA from all organic food packaging, replacing it with safer alternatives, and establishing public time¬lines and benchmarks for the transition.

2. Conduct and publicly report on the results of “alternatives assessments,” using the GreenScreen® for Safer Chemicals or a similar third-party certification tool for assessing the safety of can linings.

3. Label all chemicals used in can liners, including BPA or BPA alternatives, and demand that suppliers of canned food linings fully disclose safety data to provide a higher level of transparency to consumers.

We encourage NOSB to consider prohibiting those additional known toxicants from organic food packaging, as well.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on these important issues before NOSB.


Trudy Bialic
Director, Public Affairs & Quality Standards
PCC Natural Markets
Seattle, Washington

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