With all this talk of PFAS “forever chemicals” found inside butter wrappers, you may be asking yourself, “Where is the safest butter?” You’ve already heard that Kerrygold was sued in Superior Court after claiming to have “Pure Irish butter” while also packaging their products in contact wraps containing toxic PFAS “forever chemicals.” So which butter brands have indications of PFAS in their butter wrappers and which ones do not? Mamavation sent 32 butter wrappers from 22 butter brands off to an EPA-certified laboratory to answer your questions. You’ve trusted Mamavation to bring you other consumer studies like safest cookware sans PFAS or nanoparticles, the best organic mattresses, the best air purifiers, and the best water filters to filter PFAS, now join us for a consumer study on indications of PFAS “forever chemicals” within butter wrappers.
Disclosure: This consumer study is released in partnership with Environmental Health News. Scientific reviews were performed by (1) Terrence Collins, Teresa Heinz Professor of Green Chemistry & Director of the Institute for Green Sciences at Carnegie Mellon University, (2) Linda S. Birnbaum, Scientist Emeritus and Former Director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and National Toxicology Program & Adjunct Professor at Duke University, North Carolina University, & Yale University, (3) Pete Myers, Chief Scientist at Environmental Health Sciences, Adjunct Professor of Chemistry at Carnegie Mellon University, and Co-Author of Our Stolen Future, & (4) Scott Belcher, Associate Professor with the Center for Environmental & Health Effects of PFAS at North Carolina State University. This post was medically reviewed by Sondra Strand, RN, BSN, PHN. Donations were provided by Environmental Health News and Mamavation community members. This post contains affiliate links.
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Mamavation’s Lab Finds Indications of PFAS “Forever Chemicals” Inside Butter Wrappers
Mamavation’s laboratory found indications of PFAS “forever chemicals” inside popular butter wrappers after sending 32 butter wrappers off to our EPA-certified lab. PFAS “forever chemicals” are per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances used for many decades as stain-resistant, oil-resistant, grease-resistant, & water-resistant chemicals in commerce. PFAS is found in many areas of our lives with some examples being makeup, drinking water, & dental floss. These chemicals are linked to serious health effects. Because they are so toxic, Mamavation has commissioned our own consumer studies on indications of PFAS in order to make consumer recommendations for butter brands that have PFAS-free grease-resistant wrappers.
For this consumer study, Mamavation sent 32 different butter wrappers from 22 brands off to an EPA-certified laboratory looking for indications of toxic PFAS “forever chemicals.”
Here’s what our EPA-certified laboratory found inside the food wrappers:
- Sixteen of the 32 wrappers our EPA-certified laboratory tested (50%) had indications of toxic PFAS “forever chemicals.”
- Only 8 brands out of 22 had indications of PFAS in their butter wrappers; 22 (63%) did not.
- Ranges of total fluorine reported by the lab varied from 11 to 112 parts per million (ppm).
- For each brand that tested positively for PFAS presence, we tested that brand at least twice see how consistent the issues were.
Linda S. Birnbaum, Scientist Emeritus and Former Director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and National Toxicology Program & Adjunct Professor at Duke University, North Carolina University, & Yale University, said, “It’s disappointing to see indications of PFAS in butter wrappers. In order to protect the public, PFAS should not be present in food packaging like butter wrappers. This is an important issue to tackle in the future in order to protect pregnant women and children from the potential pitfalls of PFAS. I highly recommend the industry fix this problem as soon as possible.”
Human Health Impacts of PFAS “Forever Chemicals”
PFAS “forever chemicals” are problematic to human health and the environment. They are considered ubiquitous, persistent, and toxic. Many of these chemicals can last for years or decades in our bodies. Therefore, it’s imperative to reduce the amount of PFAS you are exposed to from food like butter, water, and consumer products.
PFAS like PFOA and PFOS have been linked to many health risks and bad health outcomes. When considering food packaging you are exposed to daily or even often, it’s important to be mindful of the health impacts of PFAS exposure:
- Reduction in immunity
- Reduced vaccination response
- Increased risk of allergies & asthma in young children
- Affected growth, learning, and behavior of infants and older children
- Increase to high cholesterol levels
- Metabolic diseases like obesity & diabetes
- Cardiovascular disease
- Lowered a woman’s chance of getting pregnant
- Lowered male fertility
- Increased risk of kidney & testicular cancers
- Causes endocrine disruption
- Disrupted normal thyroid function
It’s also very clear based on biomonitoring evidence from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) that PFAS are in essentially all Americans. Therefore, these impacts are spread nationwide. However, it’s important to avoid PFAS as much as possible because of the potential health and environmental impacts.
Can PFAS get into your Butter From the Packaging?
The test we use burns the butter wrappers and the gas they emit is analyzed to allow for a determination of total PFAS. If PFAS “forever chemicals” are in butter wrappers, can these chemicals get into your butter? The short answer is that prudence requires that we assume they can and it is chemically reasonable to assume they do.
There’s also quite a diversity in butter food packaging. Most of the options we found were either based on aluminum or wood cellulose with or without a coating. What is inside that coating? We don’t know. We took a look at several different butter wrapper manufacturers online to get a glimpse of the options available to butter brands.
- Brands like Alstrom claim to have fluoro-free butter wrappers made from a proprietary process that “achieves a 100% cellulose product with no coating, which is certified by OK Compost Home and Industrial (EN13432).”
- Another brand Bomarko offers “paper/foil laminated products as well as private labeled butter and margarine packaging in both grease-proof and waxed structures as well as paper/foil laminated structures for portioned single serve reddies, chips, continentals, quarter-pound sticks, and pound blocks.” This manufacturer makes no mention of using fluoro-free paper.
- We also found Safepack that makes aluminum foil along with special polymers to protect butter from chemical spoilage and rancidity caused by oxygen, light, heat, & moisture. This brand also doesn’t mention any fluoro-free products.
- And finally, Quantum Packaging reported quite an array of different aluminum options like
- aluminum-polyethylene-paper, or
Terrence Collins, Teresa Heinz Professor of Green Chemistry & Director of the Institute for Green Sciences at Carnegie Mellon University explains the relevance to butter wrappers in more detail.
“The US Food and Drug Administration has known for decades that PFAS compounds in food wraps can migrate into our food. The general notion that chemicals, like most of the PFAS family, that can move around in the environment, that bioconcentrate in living things, and that Nature cannot easily destroy will find a way to cause health or environmental trouble because the chemistry of the ecosphere is so complex. This was clearly articulated over two decades ago. Yet here we are in 2023 with Mamavation being able to easily find that the everyday food product, butter, is still being put in close contact with PFAS contaminated wraps by many of the suppliers Mamavation tested. Those 8 out of 22 butter brands still using PFAS found by Mamavation in their wraps should come to terms with the serious PFAS health threats, plainly listed above by Mamavation, and get rid of PFAS compounds altogether in every aspect of their business. I also recommend that butter companies should strive to be able to label their products as “PFAS-Free” when they have done the appropriate homework.” As a more general comment, the only effective way to deal with the expanding environment, human contamination, and deadly toxic issues is to simply stop making most if not all PFAS compounds.”
Will PFAS “Forever Chemicals” Disrupt The Dairy Industry? — The Hangover of Biosolids.
Finding PFAS in butter wrappers is going to be an easy fix for a brand compared to PFAS inside the dairy product itself. PFAS “forever chemicals” are a hot topic of concern among farmers in general. This is because legacy farming practices are now bankrupting farms decades later.
A farming practice of spreading PFAS-contaminated sewage sludge (“biosolids”) on the land as fertilizer is coming back to bite farmers. Biosolids from sewage treatment contain various types of PFAS “forever chemicals”. The chemicals and microbes in our waste products encounter massive mixed bacterial colonies called “activated sludge” when they reach the treatment plants. The bacteria consume the microbes and chemicals to grow into what is meant to be “safe” organic matter that can deliver high-quality fertilizer.
But the logic breaks down when the activated sludge cannot decompose toxic chemicals—many chemicals that are ecotoxic or a threat to our health, such as PFAS compounds, contaminate the sludge and when its spread on farmland ends up contaminating our food supply. Persistent chemicals are such because Nature cannot break them down fast enough or at all. The sludge bacteria use the same (or similar) enzymes to decompose sewerage compounds that are found across much of aerobic life, including inside humans.
The chemicals often get past our own decomposing enzymes to find their way into our number one and two waste products. At the sewage plants, not only is the rapidly growing activated sludge and future “potential” fertilizer contaminated, but so is the water that is released after treatment from the plants into rivers, lakes, and oceans.
Persistent and forever chemicals that the chemical enterprise has developed progressively over the last century have overwhelmed our technologies for cleaning wastewater. These “forever chemicals” can come from many industries like printing presses or chrome plating facilities, lint from waterproof clothing, waterproof makeup, dental floss, soft contact lenses, Teflon pans, etc.
One farmer by the name of Fred Stone in 2016 found that PFAS chemicals were contaminating his farmland from sewage plant fertilizer the hard way after voluntarily testing his dairy milk and finding PFAS in levels as high as 1,470 parts per trillion (ppt), far above what is considered safe for drinking water.
“The toxic chemicals that I never used and had never even known about until two years ago contaminated my cows—which I really take exception to—and ruined my farming operation and hurt my family,” he told reporters at a press conference in 2019.
What is sewage sludge? It is a byproduct of the water treatment process. Basically, this is what is left over when water is separated from human and industrial waste from the sewers. Two states have stepped up the testing of sludge. Regulators in each state have communicated that contamination was found in all tested samples. Other states have rejected residents and environmental groups’ pleas for testing of sludge and soil for these chemicals.
Vice has also covered this topic recently and we recommend watching this video to understand the scale of the problem.
Pete Myers, Chief Scientist at Environmental Health Sciences, Adjunct Professor of Chemistry at Carnegie Mellon University, and Co-Author of Our Stolen Future, added “The long-term and ubiquitous practice of using sewage sludge to fertilize fields must be stopped until technologies become available that remove toxic contaminants like PFAS from the waste waters flowing into the sewage treatment plants. It’s a time bomb threatening our farmers that will grow vastly more damaging than any possible value that the “free” fertilizer … read “toxic sludge”… adds to the farm economy.”
New State PFAS Laws Protecting Some Americans
There is good and bad news on the horizon in terms of how laws are protecting citizens from PFAS. The good news is certain states are taking action, This will benefit not only those states but also other parts of the country as understanding of the dangers spreads. The bad news is it’s slow-moving and some of the new laws don’t really have the teeth required to adequately punish or fine brands breaking the new laws.
According to Safer States, a non-profit organization that advocates and tracks issues in different states pertaining to toxic chemicals. Several states have enacted phase-outs of PFAS in food packaging and several other categories. These new regulations from several states are creating a patchwork of laws around the country that are pressuring companies to do more testing and due diligence to keep your family safer. Every state that enacts restrictions has the potential of making the entire country safer if brands decide to roll out changes nationwide instead of state by state.
Here are some important movements.
- Twelve states including CA, CO, CT, HI, ME, MD, MN, NY, OR, RI, VT, and WA have enacted phase-outs of PFAS in food packaging.
- California’s new regulations aim to create PFAS-free packaging, but these regulatory requirements allow fluorine up to 100 ppm. Unfortunately, California is not enforcing this law. Mamavation has alerted District Attorneys in two counties (Los Angeles & Ventura) of these issues thus far with laboratory proof and receipts of where they were purchased. No action has been taken thus far. So this new law has had quite a bumpy start.
- Many states have begun the process of regulating PFAS in drinking water and have adopted enforceable standards or Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) for PFAS in their state.
- States with enforceable drinking water standards include ME, MA, MI, NH, NJ, NY, PA, RI, VT, and WI. Both DE and VA are in the process of establishing enforceable drinking water standards.
- FL is on track to adopt its own standards if the EPA has not finalized its standards for PFAS in drinking water by 2025.
- Other states have adopted guidance levels, notification levels, and/or health advisories for PFAS in drinking water. These states include AK, CA, CO, CT, IL, MD, MN, NC, NM, OH, OR, and WA.
- In the meantime, we recommend you purchase one of the water filters that were independently shown to filter PFAS.
- States are taking action to eliminate PFAS in carpets, rugs, apparel, textile furnishings, upholstered furniture, fabric treatments and/or other textiles, including California, Colorado, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, Vermont, & Washington.
- Mamavation has tested activewear & yoga pants and sports bras to help consumers make educated decisions about their consumer choices before these laws take effect.
- States are taking action to eliminate PFAS chemicals in cosmetics, including California, Colorado, Maryland, Minnesota, & Washington
- Mamavation has tested over 100+ green beauty makeup products to help consumers make educated decisions about indications of PFAS and makeup before these laws take effect.
Other Categories of Products Mamavation Has Tested for Indications of PFAS “Forever Chemicals”
Before we launch into the raw data from our EPA-certified lab, we wanted to remind you about all the other studies we have done on indications of PFAS “forever chemicals” inside the food and consumer products you bring inside your home.
- Soft Contact Lenses
- Green Beauty Makeup
- Dental Floss
- Toilet Paper
- Period Underwear
- Sanitary Pads, Pantiliners, & Incontinence Pads
- Pasta & Tomato Sauces
- Nut Butters (Peanut butter, etc.)
- Cooking Oils (olive oil, almond oil, canola oil, etc)
- Activewear (Yoga Pants)
- Sports Bras
- Parchment Paper
- Cupcake Liners
- Plastic-Free Straws
- Children’s Probiotics
- Bamboo Flooring
- Baby Strollers
Mamavation’s Raw Data on Butter Wrappers Sold to American Consumers & Tested for Indications of PFAS “Forever Chemicals”
Butter wrappers were purchased in greater Los Angeles, California, and also donated from community members in states like Texas, Massachusetts, Arizona, Virginia, Nevada, & New York between January and June 2023. Donated butter wrappers from community members were placed in ziplock bags (which we know from prior testing are non-detect for fluorine) and shipped to Mamavation in greater Los Angeles. Mamavation then took pictures of the butter wrappers and shipped them directly to the lab.
Testing: Mamavation’s EPA-certified laboratory uses marker testing to identify the potential presence of PFAS “forever chemicals” in butter wrappers. Organic fluorine is a marker for PFAS because all PFAS chemicals are carbon-based compounds that contain fluorine. The specific lab method used to test for total fluorine was the Determination of Total Fluorine by Oxygen Flask Combustion and Ion-Selective Electrode. If total fluorine was observed at a detection level of 10 ppm, the lab did the Determination of free Fluoride Ion in the product by Ion-Selective Electrode and then subtracted that from the Total Fluorine to determine the amount of organic fluorine. This marker testing is likely to show the presence of PFAS. Organic fluorine can also capture other fluoropolymers, pharmaceuticals, and common hydrofluorocarbon refrigerants, such as 1,1,1,2-tetrafluoroethane (commonly known as R-134a) and 2,3,3,3-tetrafluoropropene (commonly known as HFO-1234yf), which are also PFAS. None of which you want around your food!
Scott Belcher, Ph.D. & Associate Professor with the Center for Environmental & Health Effects of PFAS at North Carolina State University says “fluoropolymers, such as polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) or Teflon®, are extremely common forms of PFAS that can be contributing to the organic fluorine found in butter. Methods used for detecting individual PFAS, such as PFOA or GenX, cannot directly identify PTFE. However, the analysis of total organic fluorine does account for all PFAS contaminants in butter wrappers, including PTFE. Therefore, this method of testing serves as a good ‘spot-check’ of consumer products.”
Not Our Favorite Butter Wrappers
These butter wrappers were sent to an EPA-certified laboratory and came back with detections of organic fluorine, which is a marker for PFAS “forever chemicals” inside the packaging.
- HEB Organic Salted Sweet Cream Butter — 18 parts per million (ppm) organic fluorine, 2nd product 16 ppm
- Kate’s Pure & Simple Sea Salt Butter — 31 parts per million (ppm) organic fluorine, 2nd product non-detect
- Kerrygold Pure Irish Butter Unsalted Wrapper — 61 ppm organic fluorine (tested after lawsuit)
- Kerrygold Pure Irish Butter Salted Wrapper — 122 ppm organic fluorine (tested after lawsuit)
- Kerrygold Unsalted Pure Irish Butter Paper Wrapper — 11 ppm organic fluorine (paper wrapper new packaging)
- Kirkland Grass-fed Salted Butter Wrapper — 58 ppm, 2nd product 15 ppm organic fluorine
- Land O’Lakes Salted Butter Flavor Protect Wrapper — 23 ppm [updated product: Aug 2023]
- Maple Hill Organic 100% Grassfed Unsalted Butter — 69 ppm, 2nd product 15 ppm organic fluorine
- Miyokos European Style Cultured Vegan Butter w/ Hint of Sea Salt — 12 ppm organic fluorine, 2nd product different lot non-detect
- Organic Valley Sweet Cream Salted Butter Wrapper — 35 ppm, 2nd product 16 ppm organic fluorine, 3rd product 14 ppm
- Wegmans Organic Unsalted Sweet Cream Butter wrapper — 15 ppm organic fluorine, 2nd product different lot 16 ppm.
Better Butter Wrappers
This category represents butter wrappers that were sent to an EPA-certified laboratory. All came back with non-detect results. However, these brands are not USDA organic, so the chances of exposure to toxic pesticides or other types of hazardous chemicals are still present.
- Cabot Natural Creamery Salted Butter Wrapper
- Grassland Salted Sweet Cream Butter
- Nellie’s Free Range Slow Churned Butter Sea Salted from Grassfed Cows
- Raw Farm Raw Butter from Grass-Grazed Cows Lightly Salted
- Sprouts Salted Grade AA Butter
- Truly Grassfed Natural Creamy Butter Salted Wrapper
- Vital Farms Sea Salted Butter
Best Butter Wrappers
This category represents butter wrappers that were sent to an EPA-certified laboratory and came back with non-detect results. They are also USDA organic brands.
- 365 Whole Foods Market Organic Salted Butter Pasture-Raised
- Clover Sonoma Organic Salted Butter Wrapper
- Horizon Organic Salted Organic Butter From Pasture-Raised Cows
- Kirkland (Costco) Organic Salted Butter [Updated product: Aug 2023]
- Nature’s Promise (Stop & Shop) Salted Organic Sweet Cream Butter
- O Organics Organic Salted Sweet Cream Butter
- Straus Family Creamery Organic European Style Lighted Salted Organic Butter
- Trader Joes Organic Salted Butter