The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and U.S. Department of Agriculture
(USDA) have released an August 10, 2016, joint report examining
consumers’ perceptions of “recycled content” and “organic” claims,
especially for non-agricultural products and services. Using data from
Internet-based questionnaires completed by 8,016 respondents, the
study sought to determine whether consumers view products marketed
with such claims as having “particular environmental benefits or
attributes.”

Among other things, FTC and USDA asked consumers to assess the
accuracy of recycled content and organic claims when applied to products
made with varying types of recycled materials and varying proportions
of “man-made” substances. While the agencies reported no significant
difference among consumer perceptions of products that used either
pre- or post-consumer recycled materials, “a significant minority of
respondents disagreed that the organic claims accurately describe the
product” when a small percentage of materials (i.e., “less than 1%; 1% to
5%; and 5% to 10%”) was identified as “made by a man-made, chemical
process.”

“For organic claims, we asked how respondents understand the term
‘organic’ in a variety of contexts, focusing on products that may fall
outside of USDA’s existing National Organic Program requirements, in
particular, non-food products with non-agricultural components, such
as an ‘organic’ mattress,” state the agencies. They also noted that respondents
were equally split “between those who believe that organic claims
have the same meaning for non-food products and food products, and
those who believe they have different meanings.”

“[R]oughly 35% of respondents believed that organic claims for shampoos
or mattresses imply that the product meets some government
standard,” concludes the joint report. “About 30% of respondents
believed that USDA certifies organic claims for these products.”

To further explore these perceptions about organic claims and determine
if FTC needs to update its guidance in this area, the agencies
have also announced an October 20, 2016, roundtable in Washington,
D.C., to gather additional feedback on organic claims for non-agricultural
products. Open to the public, the roundtable brings together
consumer advocates, industry representatives and academics to discuss
“consumers’ interpretations of ‘organic’ claims for products and services
that generally fall outside the scope of the USDA Agricultural Marketing
Service’s National Organic Program,” as well as “approaches to address
potential deception.”

 

Issue 615

About The Author

For decades, manufacturers, distributors and retailers at every link in the food chain have come to Shook, Hardy & Bacon to partner with a legal team that understands the issues they face in today's evolving food production industry. Shook attorneys work with some of the world's largest food, beverage and agribusiness companies to establish preventative measures, conduct internal audits, develop public relations strategies, and advance tort reform initiatives.

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