California’s Prop 65 (officially the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986) requires businesses in the state to inform Californians about exposure to chemicals identified by the state as causing cancer or reproductive toxicity. Inconveniently, though the obligation is on the producer of the product to ensure that the consumer is warned, it is the retailer that must display a notice sign at the point of sale to comply with the law. The Act provides for reimbursement of attorney fees to claimants who bring suit based on missing notice signs, leading to watchdog lawsuits calling out different consumer goods producers. To address the responsibilities of alcoholic beverage suppliers, whose products often include a number of chemicals from the list, three key trade bodies, the Beer Institute, the Wine Institute, and the Distilled Spirits Council, set up the Prop 65 Sign Management Company in 2014. This group distributes signs to retail licensees free of charge, on behalf of all members of the alcohol industry. These signs generally indicate that the consumption of alcoholic beverages may expose drinkers to Prop 65 chemicals, but do not name specific chemicals. This means that when new chemicals are added to the list, such as the impending August 2018 addition of a common ingredient in caramel color, the signs do not need to change.
One of the main aspects of Prop 65 is that chemicals are added to the list if the State of California identifies them as potentially harmful. This means that the California list does not always correlate with guidance from other regulators. As an example, in 2015, the state added Bisphenol A (BPA) to the Prop 65 list of chemicals, for warning to be provided where it is “intentionally added” (which can include where it is present in materials that consumer goods are exposed to – BPA is a common ingredient in linings of lids and beverage cans, and is often used in equipment such as hoses at production facilities). Although the regular Prop 65 warning doesn’t have specific language, in the case of BPA, California created emergency regulations in 2016 with a special safe harbor warning notice. That regulation ran out in January, meaning that sign is no longer mandatory until the regular regulations take effect in August, but it is recommended by trade bodies to keep distributing it in the interim. Prop 65 Sign Management Company distributes a safe harbor warning, but only on behalf of identified suppliers (who are encouraged to add their affected products directly at the site).
The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) allows the use of BPA, and opposed California’s addition of BPA to the list in 2015, indicating the FDA’s research did not indicate it caused reproductive toxicity. A draft report released by the National Toxicology Program (NTP) this month also found only minimal effects on persons exposed to BPA. On the other hand, a new Regulation passed by the European Commission (EU 2018/213) in February introduces stricter measures for BPA use in food contact materials in Europe from September this year, and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is re-evaluating its impact after it originally cleared its use in 2015, in the face of many health bodies calling for a complete ban on its use. Despite the differences of opinion among regulatory agencies, both in the US and abroad, BPA remains on the Prop 65 list and suppliers whose products or packaging are exposed to BPA are subject to the California signage requirements.
Any businesses selling alcoholic beverages in California should be aware of the impact of Prop 65 on their activity. If you have any questions, contact one of the attorneys at Strike Kerr & Johns.
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