What’s Wrong with the Latest Proposed Federal “Menstrual Products Right to Know Act “

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Emily Waldman (Pace) and I have a lot to say about the absence of adequate federal oversight of menstrual products in our forthcoming book, Menstruation Matters: Challenging Law’s Silence on Periods (forthcoming June 21, 2022, NYU Press). We devote an entire chapter to consumer health and environmental issues, including the “Menstrual Products Right to Know Act,” first proposed by U.S. Representative Grace Meng (D-NY) in 2017.  That bill would have required all manufacturers of menstrual products to list the names of each ingredient or component on product packaging. Unfortunately, the bill has been introduced repeatedly without advancing. A new version under discussion represents a massive step back.

Representative Meng is a fantastic advocate for menstrual equity. She is responsible for so many positive changes, including federal laws giving incarcerated individuals the right to free menstrual products and the ability to buy menstrual products with flexible spending accounts.

The latest version of the Menstrual Products Right to Know Act, currently under discussion for reintroduction, does not require meaningful disclosure of all of the ingredients in menstrual products. The “Baby and Adult Hygiene Product Association” (yup, the industry group representing the big commercial manufacturers of menstrual products) is pushing for watered down language. Under the version of the bill favored by industry, the FDA could set its own thresholds that trigger any obligation to disclose added ingredients like artificial fragrances. Needless to say, that takes a lot of the “teeth” out of the legislation as an effective consumer disclosure law.  First, the dangerous ingredients in menstrual products are not necessarily those intentionally introduced during the fabrication process but rather those found in the materials that make up the product components. Second, why should there be any safe harbors for added fragrances?  We already know that scented tampons can alter the pH levels of the vagina and increase the risk for yeast infection and bacterial vaginosis. Neither the FDA nor the industry group has  demonstrated that any level of added fragrance is safe for consumers.

In 2019, New York enacted a law requiring the disclosure of ingredients intentionally added to menstrual products. That already represented a step back from the proponent’s original goal of requiring all packages of tampons in the state to carry a “plain and conspicuous printed list of all ingredients with percentages of the components of the tampon and the applicator” (emphasis added).

Why does the industry group oppose full disclosure of what is in  tampons and pads? Because if people actually knew what was in their products there were buying, consumers might think twice about their purchases. Contemporary research suggests that many of the common menstrual products that millions of people use regularly for several days every month for multiple years may, in fact, contain chemicals with harmful or unknown long-term effects on human health.

There is shockingly little federal research about the contents of menstrual products, and the FDA does not require that companies guarantee these products’ safety.

Anything short of full disclosure will allow manufacturers to continue to keep the contents of their products a mystery, to the detriment of the health of those who uses these products inside their bodies or very close to highly absorbent vaginal tissue.

 

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