22 June 2018
New Legislation Aims to Set Science-Based Criteria for Additional State Labelling Requirements
The U.S. chemical sector is supporting bi-partisan legislation that would require federal and state mandated information declarations and labelling requirements applicable to the chemical composition of, and radiation emitted by, consumer products to meet minimum scientific standards to deliver accurate and clear information. By contrast, the California-based Center for Environmental Health believes the legislation would “endanger human health and the environment, erode the fundamental role of science in formulating sound public policy, and strip Americans consumers of their right to know what’s in the products they buy.”
Introduced on 6 June, the Accurate Labels Act (H.R. 6022 and S. 3019) would amend the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act by requiring any labelling requirements related to product chemical composition or radiation emission (which expressly or by implication conveys a claim regarding or characterises the relationship between any constituent or radiation and a disease, a toxicological endpoint or a health-related condition) that are adopted for consumer products at the federal or state level to adhere to minimum standards regarding best available science.
The term “best available science” is defined in the legislation as science that is conducted in accordance with sound and objective scientific practices and whose findings and underlying data are reliable and, if available, peer-reviewed. According to the legislation, best available science uses data that is collected by an accepted method or the best available method if the reliability of the method and the nature of the decision to which the method applies justifies the use of the data.
The legislation would require covered information to be displayed or communicated in a fashion that is clear, accurate and not misleading or deceptive to consumers as well as consistent with the requirements under section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act. Additionally, the covered information to be displayed or communicated would have to be risk-based and based on the best available science and the appropriate weight of the evidence review. The covered declaration requirements would exempt non-functional constituents as well as naturally occurring constituents.
The legislation would exempt consumer products from product chemical composition and radiation emission declaration requirements in instances where (i) a constituent is present in a concentration below 0.1 percent, and (ii) with respect to the emission of radiation, the level of emission by the covered product is below the risk-based de minimis risk level established by the FTC. Additionally, any covered information could be furnished to the consumer through an electronic or digital declaration method that complies with certain requirements (for example, through smartphone-enabled “smart labels” and on websites, where consumers could find up-to-date ingredients and warnings). Notably, U.S. states would be precluded from establishing any information, warning or labelling requirements for consumer products that contravene the requirements of this legislation.
According to the American Chemistry Council, the Accurate Labels Act is supported by more than 60 associations representing farmers, manufacturers, small businesses and retailers. The association states that the need for the legislation is clear from the growing number of proposals in cities and states across the United States that require certain products to carry warning labels that are not backed by science and imply risks where none exist. In the past year, the ACC adds, there have been 30 proposals in 11 different states that would require warning labels or ingredient listings that go beyond national standards, which the association believes may unnecessarily drive up costs for consumers and interfere with interstate commerce.
The Center for Environmental Health has a diametrically opposite viewpoint, stating in an 8 June press release that the Accurate Labels Act represents “an underhanded and deceitful attempt by the chemical industry to strike down laws that, for years have served the American public.” The association asserts that if this legislation is enacted into law “chemical industry executives stand to make millions while ordinary Americans would be more exposed to cancer-causing chemicals.”