Will Anti-BPA Campaigns Eat Into Coca-Cola Stock?

BPA is an estrogen-mimicking chemical used in highly durable polycarbonate plastics, commonly found in items such as cell phones, computers, baby bottles, and food and drink can linings. Even though studies have linked BPA to breast cancer, early puberty, infertility, and a whole host of other health problems, Coca-Cola (NYSE:KO) isn’t even considering ditching the chemical in order to make their pop cans safer. If the sodium, sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and caffeine weren’t enough to turn you off the near-toxic sludge, maybe this will.

Only 26% of Coca-Cola shareholders voted to discontinue the production of cans using BPA. According to Muhtar Kent, chairman and CEO of The Coca-Cola Company (NYSE:KO), the science just doesn’t justify a shift. Coca-Cola might be trying to poison its customers with calories and carbonation, but they just don’t believe that BPA poses any health risk, despite the National Toxicology Program’s (NTP) 2008 report warning of harm to the human brain and reproductive system. Instead, Coca-Cola has decided to place exclusive faith in the Food and Drug Administration’s report stating that BPA, at its current levels of exposure, is safe. Of course, that report has been challenged by the FDA’s own science board, who question whether an adequate analysis was made.

While we can blame Coca-Cola for a lot of things, not the least of which is their decision to “risk it”, the real concern is that two of our nation’s topmost authorities on public health are so conflicted. Who should we believe? The facts aren’t in the FDA’s favor. They have a stake in allowing BPA and other chemicals to continue to be used without restriction. The sole 5 companies in the U.S. that create BPA are Bayer (PINK:BAYRY), Dow (NYSE:DOW), Momentive Specialty Chemicals (formerly Hexion), SABIC Innovative Plastics (formerly GE Plastics), and Sunoco (NYSE:SUN), collectively bringing in $6 billion a year in revenue from BPA alone. And in the U.S., chemicals are presumed safe until proven otherwise, and the FDA doesn’t necessarily test any of these chemicals before they are put on the market, with the vast majority of the 80,000 chemicals currently on the market never having been tested.

So say for argument’s sake we don’t trust the FDA. Let their findings cancel out the NTP’s findings and we’re still left with over 100 independently funded studies, 90% of which evidence similar effects to those found in the NTP’s study. Of course, every single study of BPA that was funded by the industry, meaning the producers who would stand to lose billions if BPA were found to be toxic, demonstrate that, not surprisingly, BPA is perfectly safe. And of course the industry regulators would choose to believe these reports instead of the countless others that would warrant the discontinuation of BPA in products where it might be ingested. Still, it’s a generally accepted belief among the public that BPA is bad for you, thus the reasoning behind numerous BPA-free campaigns for baby products, water bottles, and breakfast cereals. In fact, Coca-Cola (NYSE:KO) is the only company to deny outright even the remotest possibility of BPA being harmful.

For now, it will remain up to the consumer to decide whether BPA is safe. You could risk infertility or cancer and choose to trust a multi-billion dollar industry with everything to lose. There is no saying that they’re wrong. Coca-Cola (NYSE:KO), chemical companies (NYSE:XLB), and other users of BPA will defend it just as big tobacco defended the safety of their product before them. But in the future, if they continue to deny the harmful effects of BPA, they might feel repercussions in the one area where they can be hurt: their wallets.