ConAgra keeps admitting and denying it uses Teflon chemicals

Ohio Citizen Action has taken the lead asking major food companies to disclose use of "Teflon chemicals" in food packaging. The chemical coating used on foods is sometimes called "fluorotelomers," and can also include the dangerous chemical known as C8 or PFOA (some fluorotelomers break down into C8).

Food giant ConAgra, maker of Orville Redenbacher popcorn and hundreds of brands of foods, has made a series of statements about their food packaging, both admitting and denying the use of C8 and Teflon chemicals in their packaging. Here's a recap of our exchange of letters with ConAgra, and their statements to date:

September 2005
Ohio Citizen Action writes letters to major food suppliers including ConAgra, saying in part:

"Recent studies and government investigations focus on efforts to determine how the Teflon-related chemical, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), has made it into the blood of almost every American. PFOA is mostly known as an ingredient to make Teflon. However, the current public and scientific research surrounding fluorotelomers, used widely in food packaging, pinpoints the food industry as one possible pathway of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA)."

"I am writing today to encourage ConAgra to publish a public statement that assures customers that the products used to wrap and contain its food do not contact fluorotelomers or any similar chemicals."

"Your public statement on fluorotelomers would prove your corporation to be a leader in protecting the health and safety of both your employees and customers. Please be advised that if we do not hear from you, we will consider a public outreach campaign targeting your company with the goal to have you disclose any current use of fluorotelomers in packaging, and commit to discontinue that use."

Link to full text of the letter

Sept. 19, 2005

In a letter to Ohio Citizen Action, ConAgra defends the use of fluorotelomers (Teflon chemicals) in food packaging:

"The studies on pefluorooctanoic acids (PFOAs) are preliminary, but we are taking this issues seriously. In addition to closely following the research findings on PFOAs, we are working with our packaging materials suppliers to explore alternative packaging options that would satisfy the rigorous requirements for food application. "

"As a food manufacturer, we rely on federal regulatory agencies and the most current scientific information to guide us in what is safe and appropriate for our products. While research is underway to assess the risk of PFOAs, the current position of both the EPA and the FDA is that PFOAs are safe to use in food contact packaging. If the regulatory agencies change their position on the use of these substances in food packaging materials, we will support and comply with their direction." Patricia Verdun, Sr. Vice President & Director, Office of Product Quality & Development in a letter to Ohio Citizen Action, September 19, 2005.

Link to full text of letter

November 17, 2005
Ohio Citizen Action issues a press release in which ConAgra is named as one of the target companies for the campaign to remove Teflon chemical C8 from their food packaging.

"…Ohio Citizen Action members have begun writing to their neighborhood grocers, telling them that they do not want Teflon chemicals to be used in Orville Redenbacher popcorn or any other microwave popcorn sold in the store"

Link to press release

The press release also talks about new information revealed by the Dupont whistleblower, a senior Dupont scientist, Glenn Evers, about the cover-up of studies showing the risks of a Teflon-related chemical used to line candy wrappers, pizza boxes, microwave popcorn bags and hundreds of other food containers.

November 28, 2005
Patricia Verduin of ConAgra sends another letter to Ohio Citizen Action, insisting that Ohio Citizen Action immediately remove its press release from its website, and threatening legal action against Ohio Citizen Action.

"The fact is ConAgra Foods does not use Teflon, Teflon pads, Teflon chemicals, or the chemical Zonyl in any of its popcorn bags or packaging of any of its other products," says the letter.

"Publishing false information regarding a company's products is a serious offense, and ConAgra will take all steps required to protect our business and or legal rights."

Link to full text of letter

November 29, 2005
Ohio Citizen Action does not remove any information from its website, but does respond to Ms. Verduin at ConAgra with a series of questions and asks ConAgra for an explanation of the term "Teflon chemicals".

"The [press] release accurately quotes your September 19 letter to me regarding ConAgra's packaging practices. You clearly imply that ConAgra is using FDA's approved fluorotelomers. If ConAgra were not using fluorotelomers that have been proven to break down into PFOAs [C8], why would you say that ConAgra will 'support and comply'with the new rules if 'regulatory agencies change their position'? Can you explain to me what there is to comply with if you are not using fluorotelomers?"

"Our press release characterized PFOA [C8] as Teflon chemicals. Are you saying that the 'false information'is the statement that PFOAs [C8] are Teflon chemicals? If so, doesn't that depend on the definition of 'Teflon chemicals'? This term is not, as you know, a scientific or technical term. It is used to identify a family of chemicals in words familiar to customers."

"If your letter proposes a new definition for this term to exclude PFOAs [C8], you are welcome to do this. ConAgra's opinion, however, hardly renders the previous definition 'false' and legal threats are wholly out of place. We would be happy to review your evidence and argument as to why you think your new definition is better. " Ohio Citizen Action letter to ConAgra, November 29, 2005

Link to full text of letter

ConAgra has never responded to this letter.

December-January 2006
ConAgra writes to Ohio Citizen Action members who contacted their grocery stores about the Teflon chemicals in popcorn, saying:

"ConAgra Foods does not use Teflon, Teflon chemicals or the chemical Zonyl in any of its popcorn bags or in packaging of any other products. Our packaging suppliers has verified through studies that our microwave popcorn packaging does not transfer Fluorotelomers into our popcorn."

These letters clearly imply that fluorotelomers are present in the packaging.

January 31, 2006
Following the announcement by U.S. EPA and DuPont that they will phase out the use of the Teflon chemicals and C8 in consumer products by 2015, the Wall Street Journal interviews major food companies about what actions they plan to take.

The Wall Street Journal article on C8 quotes ConAgra:

"ConAgra Foods Inc., which owns the popcorn brands Act II and Orville Redenbacher, said last week that they use packaging made with a material that has PFOA [C8] as 'a trace impurity' but that no PFOAs migrate into the final product." January 31, 2006, The Wall Street Journal

Link to full article

March 2006
Ohio Citizen Action receives a letter from Bigg's grocery store stating that: "ConAgra Foods, the manufacturer of Orville Redenbacher's microwave popcorn, assures us that the product is safe to consume based on guidance from the Food and Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency."

"ConAgra Food's packaging supplier, Ciba-Geigy, has verified through studies that the microwave popcorn packaging the company uses does not transfer Fluorotelomers into the popcorn." Letter from bigg's store to Ohio Citizen Action, March 8, 2006.

This letter confirms the use of fluorotelomers in ConAgra's food packaging. To Ohio Citizen Action's knowledge, neither Ciba-Geigy nor ConAgra has released the studies referenced above to the public.

July 2006
In response to a shareholder resolution filed by environmentally responsible investment firm Green Century Capital Management, ConAgra Foods has indicated that it is undertaking high priority efforts to replace fluorocarbon chemicals currently used in the packaging of its microwave popcorn products.

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).

Link to full article