222238 Ingredients added to consumer products: Disclosure requirements, trade secrets, and the public's health

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Elena O. Lingas, DrPH, MPH , College of Education and Health Sciences, Touro University California, Vallejo, CA
Lisa Bero, PhD , Department of Clinical Pharmacy, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, CA
Background: Consumer product corporations influence population health. Consumer goods including foods, beverages, tobacco, cosmetics, and household cleaners contain multiple chemical ingredients. As these products are in wide use, population exposure is great and the potential for harm increased. In light of growing concerns over population exposures to hazardous chemicals, we investigate the existing legal requirements for disclosures of product ingredients to U.S. regulatory agencies and consumers. Methods: This qualitative study relied on publicly accessible data sources including federal, corporate, and advocacy Web sites, news media articles, and the scientific literature. Results: Consumer products are sold without full ingredient disclosures to either government or consumers, and regulations vary by product. Product labels that refer to “flavor” or “fragrance” do not represent single ingredients but may in fact refer to flavor or fragrance “formulas” that are made up of multiple, undisclosed chemicals. Under existing food additive regulation, new flavors may be designated “generally recognized as safe” for their intended use in foods and added to foods and beverages without notifying FDA. A new law requires tobacco product ingredient disclosures to FDA. When pressed for disclosure, consumer product companies invoke the protection of their trade secrets to prevent ingredient disclosures. Implications: Consumer product corporations place the burden of being “informed” on consumers. Weighing a product's potential harms and benefits is impossible when both consumers and regulators do not know exactly what is in the product. To protect the public's health, regulatory agencies need to pursue increased disclosure and labeling requirements for consumer products.

Learning Areas:
Public health or related laws, regulations, standards, or guidelines

Learning Objectives:
1. Identify the U.S. federal agencies with regulatory authority over consumer products. 2. Describe the limitations of existing regulations with regard to consumer product ingredient disclosures. 3. Discuss possible regulatory changes that can be made to enhance product ingredient disclosures to consumers and government entities.

Keywords: Consumer Protection, Regulations

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am conducting research on ingredient disclosures as a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of California, San Francisco.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.