Readings — From the December 2009 issue

Spin the Bottle

From minutes of a May 28 meeting of the BPA Joint Trade Association. Bisphenol A (BPA) is a compound commonly used in plastic bottles and the linings of cans. Numerous studies have found that even at low levels the chemical poses significant developmental risks to infants and fetuses; high levels of BPA in adults are associated with heart disease, diabetes, and breast and testicular cancer. Last year, Canada banned the use of BPA in baby bottles and Walmart announced that it would cease selling baby products made with the chemical in the United States. Although the Food and Drug Administration has not imposed new restrictions on the chemical, several states have banned its use in certain products. The minutes, taken by the North American Metal Packaging Alliance, Inc., were obtained by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

meeting goal: Develop potential communication/media strategies around BPA.

attending companies: Coca-Cola, Alcoa, Crown, North American Metal Packaging Alliance, Inc., Grocery Manufacturers Association, American Chemistry Council, Del Monte.

summary: Attendees discussed the need to be more proactive in communications to media, legislators, and the general public to protect industries that use BPA, prolong the life of BPA, put risks from chemicals in proper perspective, and transcend the media and the blogosphere. Attendees believe a balance of legislative and grassroots outreach (to young mothers and students) is imperative to the stability of their industry; however, the association members continue to struggle to initiate research and develop a clear-cut plan to defend their industry. Overall, the committee seemed disorganized, and its members frustrated. Lack of direction from the committee and these associations could continue to allow other associations and environmental groups to push BPA out.

other points: Attendees suggested using fear tactics (e.g., “Do you want to have access to baby food anymore?”) as well as giving control back to consumers (e.g., “You have a choice: the more expensive product that is frozen or fresh, or foods packaged in cans”) as ways to dissuade people from choosing BPA-free packaging. Attendees noted, in the past, that the different associations have had a reactive strategy with the media, with very limited proactive outreach to journalists. The committee agrees they need to promote new, relevant content to get the BPA perspective into the media mix. The committee believes industry studies are tainted from the public perspective.

The committee doubts social-media outlets, such as Facebook or Twitter, will work for positive BPA outreach. The committee wants to focus on quality instead of quantity in disseminating messages (e.g., a young kid or pregnant mother providing a positive quote about BPA, a testimonial from an outside expert). Members noted that traditional media outreach has become too expensive (they have already spent hundreds of thousands of dollars) and that the media is starting to ignore their side. The committee doubts obtaining a scientific spokesperson is attainable. Their “holy grail” spokesperson would be a “pregnant young mother who would be willing to speak around the country about the benefits of BPA.”

Members noted that the industry needs research on how perceptions of BPA are translating into consumer behavior. Are they translating into most moms not buying canned products or just a minority of moms? Attendees hope to form messages relevant to how people live their lives: What does not having BPA mean to your daily lifestyle? Focusing on the impact of BPA bans on minorities (Hispanics and African Americans) and the poor is also important.

Attendees noted that it does not matter what the next material is—there will be issues with it, and the committee wants to work to make people feel more comfortable with BPA and “BPA2,” or whatever chemical comes next.

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