WASHINGTON - January 22 - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has approved display of promotions for causes or charities on labels of pesticides, disinfectants and other commercial poisons, according to agency documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). As a result, these products may now feature tie-ins with charitable organizations and marketing slogans on their labels which are otherwise supposed to be devoted primarily to consumer safety and usage information.
The policy change came in response to a request from the Clorox Company to advertise a pledge that it will donate a small percentage of the retail purchase price of its bleach products to the Red Cross. EPA dropped earlier objections following a meeting in July between top agency and corporate officials, according to an EPA briefing provided in early December to state pesticide agency officials.
At Clorox’s urging, EPA will allow placement of the phrases “Dedicated to a healthier world” and “Help Clorox raise $1M for the Red Cross”, as well as the use of the Red Cross logo on both the front and back panels, on five Clorox products.
“Thanks to EPA, even the most dangerous chemical can now wrap itself in a cloak of wholesomeness, featuring claims that it helps the planet, benefits sick children or even saves the whales,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that the new agency cause marketing option will be open to every manufacturer of regulated products. “EPA is squandering its limited regulatory resources to referee promotional slogans rather than protecting consumer health.”
By law, EPA regulates the content of labels on registered pesticides, rat poisons, fungicides and anti-microbial agents, such as bleach. Agency guidelines emphasize safety and usage information and discourage any “symbols implying safety or nontoxicity, such as a Red Cross or a medical seal of approval (caduceus).”
“EPA’s concession to Clorox appears to violate the spirit, if not the letter, of its own consumer protection guidelines,” Ruch added. “Critical safety warnings may be drowned out by purely promotional visual clutter.”
Under the emerging policy, cause marketing labels would not be permanent but would be limited “to a specific time interval negotiated between the charity and the registrant,” according to the EPA briefing. In addition, EPA would police the legitimacy of charities involved and would require chemical makers to “certify that all references to the donation plan and any charity participation will be consistent with Better Business Bureau guidelines.” EPA would also prohibit any “direct or implied statement that the charity sponsors or endorses the product” and require “a disclaimer to this effect on the label.”
“EPA has embarked on a slippery slope that enmeshes the federal government in policing the details of commercial speech in ways that yield little or no public benefit,” Ruch concluded. “If a chemical company sincerely wants to foster good works, it can simply make a donation, perhaps anonymously, to the charity of its choice.”