Securing Safer Chemicals in Food

Behind the Label - the blueprint for safer products in the marketplaceIt seems that almost every week, another major food company announces plans to remove artificial colors and flavors from their products. In the past six months, major food companies such as Nestle, General Mills, Kellogg's, Hershey’s and Campbell’s committed to reformulating many of their iconic brands to be free of artificial colors and  flavors. National restaurant chains such as Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, Subway and Noodles & Company also made similar commitments. Tens of billions of dollars of products are being reformulated.

What’s driving all this change?

It turns out more and more Americans are concerned about what goes into their food, especially when it comes to the thousands of chemical additives—substances used to color, preserve, flavor, or emulsify food or to process or package food, like phthalates.

According to a May 2015 industry survey, 36% of consumers polled said chemicals in food was their most important safety issue for them and their families today — more than pesticides, animal antibiotics, undeclared allergens and pathogens. This is up from 9% in 2011. What’s more, 45% said they changed food purchases as a result of information they learned about chemicals, pesticide residues, and animal antibiotics.

woman reading labelAnother survey by CivicScience published the same month reported similar numbers with health concerns about preservatives and chemicals rating higher  than added sugar, saturated fats, and sodium. These weren’t urban foodies following the latest trends on social media: those most concerned were generally from rural areas, more likely to be influenced by TV news, and less likely to eat out or use social media. With numbers like these, no wonder the food industry is scrambling to respond.

There is good reason to be concerned about potentially unsafe chemicals in the food supply, and importantly, the problem extends well beyond whether an ingredient might be artificial. So, while these recent efforts to remove artificial ingredients respond to mounting consumer concerns, they won’t sate the consumer’s appetite for healthier and safer foods.

EDF is launching a new initiative to move potentially unsafe chemicals from the food supply by harnessing the transformative power of supply chains. EDF’s Behind the Label: A Blueprint for Safer Food Additives provides a roadmap for corporate leadership that moves companies from a reactionary response to artificial ingredients to a proactive approach to ensure safer, simpler food.  We’re excited to have Tom Neltner leading this new effort on safer chemicals in food.  Tom spent years investigating the safety of chemical food additives at the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

In the coming weeks and months, we’ll be outlining the problem of potentially unsafe chemicals in food, the current state of the market response to rising concerns, and our vision for corporate leadership for safer chemicals in food.

Consumers Deserve To Know What's In Their Products

This installment of our Pillars of Leadership series explores Informed Consumers.

Sharing ingredient information with consumers is key to business leadership on chemicals. It can build consumer confidence, trust, loyalty – and market advantage. Numerous surveys (see here and here) and advocacy campaigns (see here) reveal that people want more ingredient information than is typically available today. The key to success in cultivating an Informed Consumer is providing product ingredient information that is comprehensive, accessible, and importantly, meaningful.

Woman label blog image

Consumers want to:

  • Have easy access to consistent, reliable information
  • Feel empowered when making purchasing decisions for themselves and their families
  • Understand what they’re bringing into their homes
  • Avoid adverse health and environmental impacts
  • Trust that brands and retailers respect their interest in knowing product composition

How does a company cultivate an Informed Consumer? For starters, by sharing ingredient information on product packaging and online for products it makes or sells, with content that extends well beyond regulatory requirements. While packaging physically limits the amount of information that can be shared with consumers, online ingredient disclosure allows greater flexibility in terms of the extent and type of ingredient information, as well as how that information is accessed and presented. Read more

The Who What Why and How of Safer Chemicals

This installment of our Pillars of Leadership series explores Supply Chain Transparency.

You can’t act on what you don’t know. And if you can’t take informed action, you can’t innovate in smart and sustainable ways. A key step toward achieving industry leadership on chemicals is to gain a full understanding of the chemical supply chain.

Pillars of Leadership for Safer Chemicals in the MarketplaceSupply Chain Transparency informs a company’s decisions to effectively mitigate risk of current or pending chemical regulations (see here) and to efficiently allocate resources towards product innovation (see here). It also improves the data-set for product life cycle assessments, thereby yielding more firm-specific results. Above all, Supply Chain Transparency helps a company define and understand its starting point and its goals.

What does Supply Chain Transparency mean explicitly? EDF defines true transparency leadership as knowing the What, How Much, Why, and Who of the chemicals in one’s products. Read more

Behind the Label: How Business Sees Opportunity in Safer Chemistry

Behind the Label_FTens of thousands of chemicals are used to make the numerous products we use every day, yet regulatory oversight of the health and safety of these chemicals is severely lacking. Research has detected a number of these chemicals in our environment, homes, and bodies. At the same time, research has also linked a number of chemicals to disorders and disease such as asthma[1] and cancer[2]. Consumer concern is growing. With major retailers like Walmart, Target and CVS making public commitments to reduce the use of hazardous chemicals, chemical manufacturers and consumer product companies are hearing loud and clear the need for stronger policy solutions and market demand for safer chemical innovation.

EDF developed these case studies to highlight examples of innovative chemistries developed in response to demands for safer chemical ingredients in consumer products. The efforts of a leading brand and a chemical manufacturer – two ends of the consumer product value chain – are provided here.  We explore the motivation behind their product innovations and reformulations, what the innovations allowed the companies to achieve, and the impact of these innovations on their business and sector. These are not endorsements but rather an exploration of how companies are approaching safer chemistry innovation.

What We Discovered

A number of interesting results emerge from these case studies:

  1. Products designed to better protect human health can be economically successful.
  2. There is more than one way to resolve the same problem.
  3. Getting innovations to the market requires cooperation across the supply chain. Sometimes it requires external forces to set the right marketplace conditions.
  4. Reformulations can be cost-neutral despite changing suppliers and/or processing facilities.

A Snapshot of Each Case Study

 

akzonobel

AkzoNobel

In this case study we look at chemical manufacturer AkzoNobel’s work to create ingredients that have improved human health and environmental profiles. We learn how regulatory developments aided in the commercialization of AkzoNobel’s Dissolvine as a phosphate-free chelate in automatic dishwashing detergent. AkzoNobel collaborated with its customers and sought input from regulators to develop testing methods to examine Dissolvine’s biodegradability and human health profile. For the full case study, click here.

7th genSeventh Generation

In this case study, we learn about Seventh Generation’s work to replace a common surfactant used in cleaning products, Sodium Laurel Ether Sulfate (SLES). Production of SLES generates the contaminant 1,4 dioxane, a probable human carcinogen[3], that is then transferred to products. Seventh Generation succeeded in replacing SLES with the non-ethoxylated surfactant Sodium Laurel Sulfate (SLS), which is not accompanied by the 1,4 dioxane contaminant. Seventh Generation’s efforts resulted in a better-performing product and maintained sales. After launch and continued public concern about 1,4 dioxane, competitors of Seventh Generation announced  their own plans to reduce 1,4 dioxane in their products. For the full case study, click here.

We will be updating our Behind the Label series of blogs and case studies in the coming months and we invite you to join in the conversation.

 

[1]Bornehag CG et al. 2004. The association between asthma and allergic symptoms in children and phthalates in house dust: a nested case–control study. Environ Health Perspect 112:1393–1397.
[2]Huff J (2007). "Benzene-induced cancers: abridged history and occupational health impact". Int J Occup Environ Health 13 (2): 213–21.
[3] See National Toxicology Program, International Agency for Research on Cancer, and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

How Institutional Commitment Translates to Safer Products

Behind the Label_FSuccessful business outcomes require strong and continuous commitment and support from company leaders. As with any change initiative, modifying how a manufacturer selects the ingredients it uses or how a retailer selects products requires time and resources, and infrastructural and behavioral adjustments. In our previous blog in this series, we identified five 'pillars' that are critical to attaining industry leadership on safer chemicals.

The first pillar, Institutional Commitment, is essential in ensuring leadership support for business transformation.

Institutional Commitment to safer chemicals frames a company’s journey, builds internal champions, and sets accountability for the journey at every level of the organization. In a committed company, action ripples throughout the organization; company executives set top-level goals that are reinforced by middle management in a way that empowers employees in every business function to make the transformation successful through their own daily operations. It’s about true integration of the new safer chemistry philosophy into everyday business. Read more

5 Things Companies Can Do to Ensure Safer Products in the Marketplace

Tens of thousands of chemicals are used to make consumer products, with more entering the marketplace each year. Many chemicals are now detected routinely in indoor air, food, drinking water, house dust – and our bodies. Research has linked certain chemicals to negative health impacts ranging from cancer to abnormal development of our reproductive systems, while most chemicals lack adequate health and safety data entirely. Too often harmful substances like lead, asbestos and toxic flame retardants persist in the market – and environment – for years before action is taken. We need a new marketplace paradigm. We need companies, from chemical makers to consumer product manufacturers to retailers, to be leaders in fostering the healthy, sustainable world we all deserve.

Why companies should lead

Resiliency is the ability to successfully adapt to anything that can disrupt your system or way of life. It’s a concept that applies in the physical world and in the business world. Leading on safer chemicals improves a company’s ability to bear chemical regulations, product liability occurrences, product recalls, and other costly externalities typically not factored into the chemical selection process during product development. Resiliency helps a company mitigate costs and stay competitive.

To maintain market longevity, companies need to keep a pulse on consumer needs and regularly innovate to meet those needs. Today’s consumers want to know what’s in their products, and they want safer ingredients. Increased innovation and uptake of safer ingredients in new products can help companies meet consumer demand, stay relevant, and achieve competitive advantage. Read more

Behind the Label: the Blueprint for Safer Chemicals in the Marketplace

Behind the Label - the blueprint for safer chemicals in the marketplaceIf you’re in the business of using chemicals to make consumer products – things like shampoo or baby lotions, spray cleaners or laundry soap – the last few years have likely been anything but dull. State legislatures have been passing laws restricting certain chemicals from products; consumers are demanding more transparency about product ingredients; and some of the nation’s biggest retailers, including Walmart and Target, have issued chemical policies of their own.

Having worked for years to reduce the public’s exposures to hazardous chemicals and drive incentives for safer innovations in chemistry, Environmental Defense Fund is encouraged to see the growing demand for ingredient transparency and chemical safety. But for companies impacted by these new policies, adjusting to new demands may be challenging. As a business strategy, waiting to respond to the next chemical of concern or the next regulatory action, as opposed to taking proactive steps to improve transparency and chemical safety, is an unsustainable means for addressing risk.

What if your company didn’t have to worry about the next retailer’s list of priority chemicals, the next set of state or federal policy changes or regulations, or the next chemical of concern du jour to light up social media outlets?

EPA Relaunches SaferChoice Product Labeling Program

by Jennifer McPartland, Ph.D., Health Scientist

SaferChoiceToday, the EPA Design for the Environment Program (DfE) Safer Choice program (formerly, the safer product labeling program) unveiled its newly redesigned family of three product labels. The voluntary Safer Choice program seeks to recognize and bring consumer awareness to those products whose chemical ingredients represent the safest among those within a particular chemical functional class (e.g., solvents).

Today’s milestone is the result of a public process led by the EPA DfE program to solicit feedback on a new label that better communicates the goals and purpose of the program. After more than a year, and 1,700 comments and six consumer focus groups later, the new labels will be arriving soon to a store shelf near you.  Read more

Leadership on Sustainability Must Include Helping Shape Smart Policy

This past year, we’ve seen some bold action by companies in what we’ve dubbed the business-policy nexus, and it’s taking several different forms. Some have been calling for state or federal action on environmental impacts, while others are taking far-reaching voluntary efforts that could help support policy advocacy in the future.

Whether you view engagement on public policy as risk mitigation, providing market certainty, supporting corporate sustainability goals or securing competitive advantage, leading businesses are increasingly stepping up their efforts to support smart policy reform that will benefit the environment and economy.

Keeping toxic chemicals out of supply chains

Walmart shopper

Walmart and Target are moving to proactively get harmful chemicals out of their supply chains, even though the nation’s main chemical safety law, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), is outdated and hasn’t been reformed in nearly two decades.

Earlier this year, our long-term partner in this area, Walmart, took a big step forward by announcing a new sustainable chemicals policy focused on cutting 10 chemicals of concern from home and personal care products it sells. Chemicals of concern – for example, formaldehyde, a known carcinogen – have been found in about 40% of the formulated products on Walmart shelves, including things like household cleaners, lotions and cosmetics. Read more

Transparency Makes for Good Neighbors in Port Communities

Green Marine logo

Source: green-marine.org

Day-to-day operations at ports are often associated with negative impacts on public health. For example, heavy-duty equipment and on road trucks play a critical role in the movement of cargo around the globe, but they also emit diesel exhaust, a known carcinogen. There is certainly room for improvement, and some ports are making efforts to be good neighbors by increasing transparency with respect to their environmental performance.

I had an opportunity to learn about these leading ports at the Green Marine GreenTech 2014 conference, held in St. John, New Brunswick, Canada. The purpose of Green Marine’s conference is to share both environmental successes and challenges, as well as to recognize participants (ship owners, ports, terminals, and shipyards in the US and Canada) for their leadership in the voluntary Green Marine environmental program. This program provides a framework for participants to identify specific environmental goals, establish baseline environmental metric values, self-report progress that is verified by a third-party, and earn recognition for their efforts. I wanted to share two notable examples of how some ports are opening their lines of communication and sharing their environmental performance.

Read more