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Product Labeling Laws

15. What are the applicable labeling laws regulating consumer products?

Labeling laws are administered by a combination of federal and state agencies. Federal agencies heavily involved in product labeling laws include the CPSC, FTC, and FDA. Collectively, federal and state laws require manufacturers to place informative labels and warnings on various types of products based upon product category, materials or substance, and applicable safety standards.

•    The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) – The FTC has broad authority to regulate consumer products that are not otherwise regulated by a separate agency. Most notably, the FTC places consumer goods into product categories and prescribes specific labeling requirements pursuant applicable statutes, regulations, or industry standards.

•    Food and Drug Administration – The Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act is the primary federal law administered by the Food and Drug Administration. The FDA classifies goods falling under its regulatory authority into product groups, such as cosmetic and food labeling. The FDA requires extensive testing and labeling to disclose and avoid potential hazards to consumers. In general, the FDA prescribes the content for labels that must be affixed on the inside and outside of product containers, wrappers, or packaging.

•    Consumer Product Safety Commission – As discussed above, The CPSC is primarily charged with ensuring consumer product safety. As part of this mission, the agency enforces packaging, labeling and other consumer disclosure provisions. Notably, the CPSA enforces labeling provisions under the Consumer Product Safety Act, Federal Hazardous Substance Act, and Poison Prevention Packaging Act.

•    US Customs and Border Protection Service (CBP) – The CBP regulates and polices the flow of goods into and out of the United States. It is tasked with enforcing US labeling laws for imported goods. Goods incorrectly labeled may be refused entry into the United States, subject to fines, and destroyed.

•    Discussion: Why do you think authority for the regulation of consumer products is spread over multiple agencies? Can you think of arguments for and against this practice? Can you think of any products or consumer protections that you believe should be governed by a different administrative agency?

•    Practice Question: Erwin is considering launching a line of baby products. He plans on manufacturing the products in Asia and importing them into the United States. Some of these products are very similar to products that are already on the market. What administrative agencies may regulate this business activity?

The Fair Packaging and Labeling Act

The Fair Packing and Labeling Act (FPLA) is the primary labeling law in the United States. It was passed in 1967 to require labeling of “consumer commodities”. The provisions of the FPLA are enforced by the Food and Drug Administration and Federal Trade Commission. The primary provisions require that labels disclose the following information:

•    type of commodity enclosed,

⁃    Example: A package must state the specific items included within. This is important for items that have multiple parts or require the purchase of additional parts (such as batteries) to function.

•    amount of contents, and

⁃    Note: The amount of contents may be measured in both metric and inch and pound measures. The type of measurements must be either the weight, size, or numerical count of items.

•    the manufacturer or distributor’s name and location.

⁃    Note: This is generally the office address for communications.

It also allows for regulations that protect consumers against deception with regard to ingredients, contents of packaging, pricing, and packaging size. The Act integrates the standards established by the Office of Weights and Measures of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, US Department of Commerce.

•    Note: The Globally Harmonized System (GHS) is the United Nations System for classifying and labeling chemicals.

•    Discussion: Why do you think the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act focuses on the type, amount, and origin of a product? Can you think of any other information that you believe should be included on a consumer product label?

•    Practice Question: Juan is a US citizen, but he has family in Costa Rica. His family produces plantains that are perfect for making plantain chips. He begins bagging and importing the plantain chips for sale in the United States. What labeling requirements must his product meet to comply with Federal Law?

Other Notable Labeling Laws

•    Federal Hazardous Substance Act (FHSA)– The FHSA is a federal law administered by the CPSC. The FHSA requires labeling of containers of hazardous products. The label must provide notice of the potentially harmful effects of contact with the hazardous substance and the first aid steps to take in the event of exposure. Pursuant to this Act, the CPSA may ban products that are unreasonably dangerous or not adequately labeled to protect consumers.

•    Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA) – The TCSA was passed in 1976 with the purpose of assessing and regulating new and existing commercial chemicals entering the US Market. The act focuses on chemicals deemed to pose an unreasonable risk to the health or environment. The TCSA is administered by the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA puts in place regulations that require labeling of the chemicals when shipped in the US.

•    Poison Prevention Packaging Act (PPPA) – The PPPA requires manufacturers to employ child-resistant packaging for certain potentially poisonous items. Covered items include prescription and over-the-counter drugs, household chemicals (such as cleaners), and other hazardous materials (such as poisons).

•    Labeling of Hazardous Art Material Act (LHAMA) – The LHAMA is a federal act requiring that all art material sold to consumers undergo a toxicology review. The purpose of the review is to identify any potential for  adverse health effects and to ensure appropriate labeling of the hazards. Manufacturers must place a statement of compliance with health standards on the substance’s container, the consumer invoice, or on the product’s retail display.

⁃    Note: Provisions of FHSA apply to art material as well.

•    Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) – FIFRA was designed to regulate the distribution or sale of pesticides. This generally includes any mixture of substances used to prevent, repel, destroy, or mitigate the presence of insects, fungi, and rodents. It also includes substances used as a defoliant, desiccant, plant regulator, or nitrogen stabilizer. Manufacturers must meet child-protective packaging and labeling requirements. Further, manufacturers and employers must adhere to EPA and OSHA standards for labeling and worker protection.

•    Flammable Fabrics Act (FFA) – The Consumer Product Safety Commission was given the authority under the FFA to issue mandatory flammability standards. This includes the requirement to place warnings on tags or labels that indicate the product’s flammable nature.

⁃    Example: Consumer goods subject to flammability standards include clothing, film, carpet, rugs, and mattresses.

•    Textile, Wool and Fur Acts – The FTC administers a number of statutes and regulations aimed at regulating fabrics, furs, and textiles in the US. Notably, these laws require consumer goods be labeled with the fiber content, country of origin, manufacturer (or marketer) identity. In the case of clothing, related laws may also require additional size labeling standards.

•    OSHA Hazard Communication Standard – Products used in the workplace are subject to the OSHA Hazard Communication Standards. Manufacturers must label chemical containers and develop material safety data sheets that provide detailed information about the material.

•    Discussion: How do you feel about the diverse authorities regulating the labeling of consumer products? Are there any benefits or detriments to such extensive legal requirements?

•    Practice Question: Dolly is a chemist. She has developed several interesting chemical solutions aimed killing insects and rodents, household cleaning of wood and metal, and maintaining industrial equipment. If Dolly decides to sell her solutions to the public, what federal laws will govern the production and sale of her products.

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