ACA Joins Coalition for Accurate Product Labels
ACA has joined the Coalition for Accurate Product Labels to address concerns about inaccurate labels caused by increased labeling and warning requirements at the state and local level. Coalition members are concerned that varying labeling standards can confuse and mislead consumers about risks associated with a product, while inhibiting the free and open flow of commerce. The coalition has some 60 trade association members representing a broad range of product sectors, including agriculture, chemicals, food, and plastics, to name a few.
While ACA strongly supports labeling to effectively communicate real hazards to consumers, it shares the coalition’s view that consumers have the right to high-quality, science-based information about the products they buy. Unfortunately, proposals in seven states are considering warning labeling requirements or ingredient disclosure based on unproven risk assertions, meaning that product labels may become even more complex, potentially misleading, and possibly providing contradictory information in the future.
Attempting to promote risk-based regulation, rather than relying on hazard only, California’s Proposition 65 requires warning labels on products that could expose individuals to a chemical known to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity. Nonetheless, California’s Proposition 65 list contains 800+ substances, sometimes relying on questionable science while ignoring essential information such as how much of a substance is present and whether it is enough to harm a person under real world circumstances (known as risk). These warnings create a false impression that many products, like coffee, are unsafe. California has not set safe-use levels for most of the substances on the Proposition 65 list, meaning that harmless trace amounts of a substance can make retailers and manufacturers vulnerable to frivolous lawsuits from private “bounty hunter” attorneys, which California allows to enforce the law. Because of California’s size and the inherent complexity of supply chains, consumers in other states are subject to questionable information about thousands of products, and many small businesses both in California and beyond have been victims of bounty hunter lawsuits.
Washington, Oregon, Maine and Vermont have implemented ingredient disclosure programs that are similar in ways to California requirements, relying on scientifically suspect information to justify additional disclosures or implied warnings about products.
ACA and its fellow coalition members want federal action to require all federal and state labeling laws adhere to a risk and science based standard that promotes clear and accurate labeling. Notably, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in September blocked a 2015 San Francisco ordinance that requires advertisers of sugar-sweetened beverages to post health warnings, arguing that the warning conflicts with statements by the Food and Drug Administration. The court determined, in that case, the First Amendment rights of companies who make those drinks and want to advertise their products were likely violated by the ordinance because the label in question is misleading, inaccurate, and controversial. The court wrote that it is unconstitutional for “the state to require corporations to provide one-sided or misleading messages” and the message “is deceptive in light of the current state of research.”
While private brands and labeling programs must meet Federal Trade Commission standards for accuracy and the agency can challenge claims about products that lack an adequate scientific basis, similar high standards should apply to government requirements. But unfortunately, current and developing programs mandated by state or local governments do not have to prove the validity or relevance of the information they convey, nor clearly articulate to consumers if there is a meaningful health risk.
For more information, please see the Coalition’s website at: https://www.accuratelabels.com/#about-section.