ConAgra seeking substitutes for fluorocarbons in food packaging
Effort seeks to avoid traces of PFOA, the "Teflon Chemical"
These chemicals, known collectively as fluorotelomers, are known to break down into PFOA, which an EPA advisory group recently classified as a "likely carcinogen." Fluorotelomers are used in the creation of a wide variety of products including non-stick cookware, stain-resistant carpeting and fabrics, and grease resistant food packaging.
"ConAgra is doing the right thing by setting a high priority goal of replacing the fluorotelomers in its product packaging," said Andrew Shalit, Director of Shareholder Advocacy at Green Century. "Once the EPA advisory group released its findings, we felt it was imperative for food companies to move away from the full family of related chemicals."
ConAgra is following in the footsteps of other food giants in making this move. According to a January 2006 report in the Wall Street Journal, Burger King stopped using fluorotelomers in 2002, and McDonald's had begun a phaseout. At that time, ConAgra acknowledged that its popcorn packaging contained trace amounts of PFOA but argued that none of the PFOA migrated into the food products.
Other companies are also under pressure to reduce their reliance on fluorotelomers. DuPont, the company most closely associated with these chemicals, agreed to a record $16.5 million settlement with the EPA over alleged failures to disclose information about the health risks of PFOA. The company also committed to reducing emissions of the chemical over ten years. Not satisfied with this commitment, 27% of DuPont shareholders voted in April to ask the company board of directors to report on the feasibility of phasing out all use of these chemicals.
Green Century approached ConAgra as a member of the Investor Environmental Health Network (IEHN), a coalition of investors and investment managers who are working to ensure that the companies they invest in are taking appropriate steps to reduce risks associated with the use of known and suspected toxic chemicals.
"Once companies understand the financial risks of using suspected toxicants, they quickly recognize that precaution is the safest approach," said Richard Liroff, Coordinator of IEHN. "The DuPont settlement shows what can happen when a company ignores the warning flags and continues using a suspect chemical.
The resolution filed by Green Century asked ConAgra to report on policy options for reducing or eliminating the use of PFOA-related chemicals in food packaging. In light of the representation made by ConAgra, Green Century has withdrawn the resolution.
Following is the complete statement made by ConAgra foods:
"ConAgra Foods is currently conducting several high priority studies for various alternatives to eliminate fluorocarbons from food contact in its popcorn packaging that could breakdown into PFOAs and migrate into food products.
"ConAgra Foods expects to complete its studies no later than the end of this fiscal year (May 2007).
"If those studies provide suitable alternatives (i.e. does not impair the product and is economically viable) then ConAgra Foods will commence transition to those alternatives by the end of fiscal 2007."
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