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Target aims for healthier products under veil of secrecy

 
Target

Target is taking steps to self-regulate and pressure vendors to make products healthier than required by federal regulations. Photograph: AP Photo/Amy Sancetta

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Target aims for healthier products under veil of secrecy” was written by Bill Lascher, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 18th December 2013 15.57 UTC

This is the second article in a series on US retailers’ efforts to curb the use of legal, but potentially harmful, chemicals in household products. This first, by Marc Gunther, discussed the idea that retailers are acting as regulators.

Search for “shaving cream” on Target’s website and the first result that comes up is Barbasol Shaving Cream Soothing Aloe. Want sunscreen? A US west coast search turns up Neutrogena Wet Skin Kids Sunscreen. Need to wash your hair? The first result for shampoo is Macadamia Rejuvenating Shampoo.

While shoppers can choose from thousands of personal care products at Target, these high-ranking products – along with many others – contain hazardous ingredients, according to lists that will inform the company’s new sustainable products standard. The shaving cream and shampoo both contain propyl parabens, which may disrupt hormones and contribute to breast cancer, while the sunblock contains – among other red-flagged ingredients – oxybenzone, which may trigger a variety of skin conditions when exposed to sunlight.

These ingredients have been identified as chemicals of concern by GoodGuide, a product-safety-testing lab working with Target on its new guidelines, which were announced in October. These ratings don’t prove that these products – or thousands of others that received low health scores in GoodGuide’s database – are unsafe, but they do illustrate the potentially vast reach of Target’s new chemicals-targeting policy. Many well known products, including those mentioned above, could ultimately be affected.

The policy differs dramatically from a sustainable chemistry policy announced by Walmart in September, although each arguably fills a vacuum in US consumer chemicals regulations. While Walmart takes a prescriptive approach that bans a predetermined set of chemicals from product ingredients, Target’s Sustainable Products Standard sets up a rating system intended to motivate suppliers to provide healthier, more sustainable products. It hasn’t made any public commitments to reduce or eliminate chemicals from its supply chain.

Margie Kelly of Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, an organization that advocates for public disclosure of ingredient lists and elimination of harmful chemicals in consumer products, describes Target’s approach as carrot-based and Walmart’s as more of a stick. Both, she says, will mean tangible changes on store shelves, and more transparency from manufacturers about what’s in the products the big-box stores sell.

How Target’s system works

Target’s policy revolves around a 100-point scoring system to rate the sustainability of personal care, beauty and household cleaning products sold in the company’s stores. (Cosmetics will be scored beginning in 2014 with help from the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.)

Seventy percent of the score is based on health concerns. Products with ingredients that appear on one of five lists of high-level health concerns score poorly, as do those that don’t post ingredient lists on product packaging and websites. The balance of the score comes from animal testing, waste reduction in packaging and water quality concerns.

Instead of developing its own list of hazardous materials from scratch – or choosing one of the many different approaches that non-governmental organizations and retailers have developed – Target compiled lists of chemicals with high-level health concerns from a patchwork of existing regulations.

Among these are chemicals identified as cancer-causing or toxic to development and reproductive health by the state of California, designated as “chemicals of concern” or potentially risky endocrine disrupters by the European Union, identified as bio-accumulative toxic chemicals by the US Environmental Protection Agency and listed as “chemicals of high concern to children” by Washington state. The company also sought input from NGOs, the EPA, industry experts and many suppliers to develop its rankings.

The policy was developed partly as a response to public concerns about the safety of popular household and personal-care products, said Kate Heiny, Target’s senior group manager of sustainability. “Target has heard from our guests that they care about the ingredients in products they put in, on and around their bodies,” she said. “We hope that the product standard will help us establish a common language, definition and process for qualifying more sustainable products.”

Target also aims to spur healthier and more sustainable products. “Currently, there is no widely accepted standard that can be used to define a more sustainable product,” Heiny said. “Beyond compliance and bans, we saw an opportunity for product innovation by driving the marketplace to find better alternatives.”

 

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