When do consumers tune out warnings supposedly intended to protect them?

Various natural cleaning products on the market.
Various natural cleaning products on the market. NYT

An op-ed by Christopher Gavigan and Avinash Kar painted a rosy picture of California-specific labeling legislation, Senate Bill 258. As they described it, almost no one could object to the bill by Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens.

However, SB 258 sitting on Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk is fraught with litigation traps, confusion and unnecessary manufacturing costs. It will result in over-labeling, adding even more length to those 10-inch long accordion-like consumer labels. (“Ever wonder what’s in those cleaning products? Jerry Brown can help you find out” Viewpoints, Oct. 8)

Consumers have a right to clear, accurate and meaningful information about the safety of products they buy. California has always sought to protect consumers and industry when developing new labeling requirements. The intent of this new bill may be good, but it would fail to achieve those goals, which is why the governor should veto it.

California manufacturers oppose this bill for many reasons, including the codification of something called the “list of lists,” a reference to chemicals some jurisdiction somewhere in the world concludes may be toxic. Many of these lists are developed in other countries, and California would have no opportunity to provide input.

Manufacturers would need to monitor the list of lists in perpetuity. Inclusion of an ingredient on any of these lists, even if rejected for inclusion on other lists, would mandate labeling.

Additionally, SB 258 will lead to class-action lawsuits by contingency fee lawyers pursuing damages for alleged injuries caused by failure to include an obscure chemical on the label. And SB 258 may compel more Proposition 65 warnings resulting in a profusion of “over-warnings,” a problem well-documented and acknowledged in our courts. Asking manufacturers to label products, without justification, works against everyone’s best interest, including consumers.

Questions raised by SB 258 require serious analytical work by stakeholders. What ingredients should require meaningful warnings and disclosure? When does the ubiquity of warnings detract from their value? Have we reached the tipping point where consumers simply tune out? None of these questions are answered by SB 258. We urge the governor to veto this bill so we can work on labeling requirements that protect us all.

Dorothy Rothrock is president of the California Manufacturers & Technology Association,