(Beyond Pesticides, October 3, 2008) Activists and individuals concerned about misleading claims on pesticide labeling scored a victory on Wednesday when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) withdrew its draft notice on label statements regarding cause marketing and third-party endorsements. After a two-year process of EPA proposals and public comment periods, the agency has determined that such label statements do nothing to promote “consumer understanding” of the risks and applications of pesticide products, and will not be encouraging further submissions.
In its notice, EPA writes, “The Agency agrees that cause marketing claims and third-party endorsements as outlined in the draft PR Notice generally would not contribute meaningfully to improving protection of human health and the environment. The addition of such statements is not likely to enhance users’ ability to understand the labeling required to inform the user about how to use the product safely and effectively. In fact, the addition of such statements could interfere with that goal. In addition, EPA recognizes that its resources are limited and should be targeted towards activities that will enhance the level of protection of human health and environment from pesticides.”
In 2006, The Clorox Company submitted an application to EPA to add cause marketing language and the Red Cross symbol to some of its labels, specifically to display a philanthropic partnership between it and the American Red Cross. In November 2006, EPA approved Clorox’s request, allowing cause marketing on pesticide labels. This led to overwhelmingly negative feedback from Beyond Pesticides and other groups, including six state attorneys general and pesticide regulators. The Minnesota Department of Agriculture refused to allow such branded Clorox products for distribution in the state.
The controversy led to a discussion at the May 2007 Pesticide Program Dialogue Committee (PPDC), at which Beyond Pesticides presented. After receiving what EPA termed “divided” feedback there, the agency proposed evaluation guidelines for future cause marketing claims and third-party endorsements in October, 2007. Beyond Pesticides submitted comments and requested that EPA extend the comment period, which it did, through March 27, 2008.
EPA received a total of 119 comments on the draft notice, under public docket number EPA-HQ-OPP-2007-1008. 108 comments opposed the action and 11 supported it. While EPA agreed with the majority that most cause labeling does not enhance the consumer’s understanding of safety or efficacy, it did conclude “that FIFRA and its implementing regulations do not explicitly prohibit the inclusion of cause marketing claims or third-party endorsements in labeling, nor do they differentiate between the two types of claims . . . If EPA receives applications to add such labeling to product labeling . . . EPA will also review and decide on a case-by-case basis whether to approve such applications.”
While EPA thinks it will be difficult for a company to prove the value of cause marketing labeling in the future, it “agrees with public comments that comparative safety statements [e.g. OMRI, Green Seal, Energy Star], or ‘green labeling,’ on pesticide labels should be further considered as a tool.” Therefore, EPA will organize a work group under the PPDC to address development of such safety standards, which will then present to the full PPDC.
For now, however, EPA has maintained that pesticide labels should, on the whole, be free from any symbol or claim that might mislead consumers or give a false sense of a product’s safety. After the potential of a precedent set by Clorox, this action is a great affirmation of FIFRA and labeling rules. As for Clorox’s previously approved label bearing the Red Cross symbol, its status is unknown. According to an email to Beyond Pesticides from EPA Press Officer Dale Kemery, “The effect on Clorox/Red Cross cause marketing is unknown at this time. EPA are talking with the registrant about the status of their claim. No decision has been made.”
To read EPA’s full action, click here.