The estrogen-mimicking chemical bisphenol A is widely found in baby food sold in glass jars in Canada, according to a survey conducted by Health Canada that found the compound in about 84 per cent of samples.
Although Health Canada said the amounts were too low to be a health concern, the highest levels detected were similar to the readings that last year prompted the federal agency to ban the chemical from polycarbonate plastic baby bottles and to direct infant formula makers to cut the amounts in liquid forms of their product.
The survey was posted on a Health Canada website earlier this week and is one of the most extensive conducted to date on the bisphenol A content of baby food from glass containers. Although glass doesn't contain BPA, a plastic making compound, it is often used on the liners of metal jar lids.
Some scientists have expressed concern over BPA because it is a chemical never found in nature and is able to act like estrogen in living things, leading to worries that its presence in food means people are getting an extra dollop of the female hormone. Experimentals with test animals have linked it to breast cancer and other hormonally induced medical conditions, some at doses to which humans are exposed.
But Health Canada said there are no grounds for concern.
"The results of this survey clearly indicate that exposure to BPA through the consumption of jarred baby food products would be extremely low" with the amounts "not expected to pose a health risk to the consumer," it said.
The highest level detected was 7.2 parts per billion, in a sample of My Organic Baby Inc.'s strained carrots, but average amounts were around 1 ppb.
Although a part per billion is an extremely minute quantity, estrogen concentrations in people are in parts per trillion, or about a thousand times less.
Health Canada testing in 2008 found plastic baby bottles leach BPA at concentrations ranging from 1.7 ppb to 4.1 ppb.
Rick Smith, executive director of Environmental Defence, a group that has been lobbying to have BPA removed from all food contact applications, accused Health Canada of having a hypocritical position because it has banned BPA from baby bottles, but isn't taking action on other exposures.
"After having taken steps to ban BPA in baby bottles, it's difficult to see how you justify not banning it from other similarly dangerous sources," Mr. Smith said.
But Health Canada defended its decision, saying the ban in baby bottles "can't necessarily be applied to other products that might have different consumption patterns. In the case of baby food, the results of this survey clearly indicate that exposure to BPA through the consumption of baby food is extremely low."
Health Canada examined the contents of 122 jars of baby food, but because of the complexity of running these kinds of tests, was able to get accurate readings on BPA content from only 99. Of these, it found the chemical in 84.
Separately, Health Canada released a survey that found low concentrations of BPA in bottled water sold in polycarbonate containers, although it didn't detect the chemical in water sold in other types of plastic bottles.