Organic products? Really?

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Are your personal care products really organic? There is no federal regulation of cosmetics sold as “organic,” other than a voluntary USDA certification process, but California takes use of the term “organic” seriously.

The California Organic Products Act (COPA), requires that multi-ingredient cosmetics labeled or sold as organic contain at least 70% organically produced ingredients.  The Center for Environmental Health (CEH) sued 40 cosmetics manufacturers in 2011 and 2012 in Alameda County for violating COPA. One of the defendants in CEH’s first lawsuit was Todd Christopher International, dba Vogue International, (Vogue) the manufacturer of Organix brand products.  While the Organix products contained less than 10% organic ingredients, Vogue contended that the “active” ingredients in its products were organic.  Vogue argued that COPA did not apply to its Organix hair care products because hair care products are not “cosmetics” and that “Organix” is not a grammatical variation of the term “organic.”  The court rejected Vogue’s arguments.  In September 2012, Vogue agreed to either change its packaging and stop using “Organix,” or change the ingredients of its products to comply with COPA.

CEH then brought another lawsuit against Vogue.   This time, it was a class action aimed at stopping Vogue’s use of “Organix” nationwide – not just in California.  CEH claimed that Vogue’s labeling is unfair and deceptive under each state’s consumer protection laws because Vogue’s Organix products are not composed of predominately organic ingredients.  In October 2013, the federal court for the Northern District of California preliminarily approved a settlement of the class action in which Vogue would pay $6.5 million and stop using “Organix” for cosmetics that did not contain at least 70% organic ingredients.  The final approval hearing is set for April 3, 2014.  Vogue has already begun to transition its packaging and advertising to the more defensible “Ogx”.

Conkle, Kremer & Engel stays current on federal and state regulatory issues and helps its clients avoid the kind of labeling problem that befell Vogue.

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Safe Cosmetics Act Database to Go Public in 2014: Watch for More Lawsuits

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In a previous blog post, we referred to the Safe Cosmetics Act as a “sleeper” because it has been in existence for several years but has been little noticed and seldom used.  That is likely to change in 2014.

The Safe Cosmetics Act was enacted in 2005 and became effective January 1, 2007.  Businesses manufacturing cosmetics sold in California were required to make their initial report to the California Department of Public Health by December 15, 2009.  Reporting must be made on a continuous basis, such as when formulation changes add a “suspect” chemical to an existing cosmetic product.  The Safe Cosmetics Act is so little-known that many manufacturers may have missed the reporting requirements, or complied as to some products but failed to update their reporting as product formulations changed.  So far, those omissions have rarely had any significant impact on manufacturers, but that is likely to start changing now.

The relative quietude may change in 2014 because by December 31, 2013 the CDPH must make a publicly accessible database available on its website containing all of the information collected pursuant to the Safe Cosmetics Act.  The information included in the database could be used by enterprising Prop 65 bounty hunters searching for products that contain chemicals that are subject to the warning requirements of Prop 65.  And the failure to report required information timely or accurately may be the basis for future unfair competition lawsuits by private parties, including consumers and competitors.

As a harbinger of the potential consequences for manufacturers, in January 2012 the California Attorney General’s Office announced the first law enforcement action taken under the Safe Cosmetics Act against a manufacturer of “Brazilian Blowout” products.  But the manufacturer’s failure comply with the Safe Cosmetics Act’s reporting requirement was only one of many business acts and practices alleged to violate California’s Unfair Competition Law.  The Attorney General also alleged violations of California’s False Advertising Law and Proposition 65.  The end result was a consent judgment that required the manufacturer to pay $300,000 in attorneys’ fees and costs and an additional $300,000 civil penalty for violation of Prop 65.  The manufacturer was also subject to numerous injunctions, including a requirement that it report in compliance with the Safe Cosmetics Act.  Private claimants such as Prop 65 bounty hunters are likely to take notice of the newly available information and any failures to comply.

Conkle, Kremer & Engel stays up to date on regulatory compliance matters to provide continued expert legal guidance to clients.  Conkle, Kremer & Engel has decades of experience representing clients in the personal care products and cosmetics industry, and understand the unique regulatory compliance concerns facing manufacturers, distributors and retailers.

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