North Face Environmental FAIL: Disease-Preventing Footwear Claims Retracted

north face hedgehog shoe photo

North Face men's "Hedgehog" model shoe, with "AgION® antimicrobial footbed covering Lightweight, compression-molded EVA midsole." Image and caption credit: North Face

If a manufacturer claims that a consumer product suppresses bacterial growth to the benefit of human health, it is, in effect, asserting that there is a pesticidal or "anti-microbial" property. Which tiptoes up to "antibiotic." As a matter of Federal law, firms must not make that claim in the USA, with promotional materials or on packaging, unless the pesticide has been registered for that type of application. The logic is impeccable for this requirement: ignorant product designers have been tempted to put hazardous substances in contact with human skin. Without proper registration, consumers might end up paying a premium for an unsubstantiated foofoo dust claim. Or, there could be unanticipated, adverse environmental consequences after use of the pesticide becomes widespread - poisoning out a sewerage treatment plant, for example. North Face apparently skipped the registration check for a large footwear line before such a claim was made. EPA noticed in a San Francisco shoe outlet!Via US Environmental Protection Agency press release (pdf download), which is republished here in full. The complaint was lodged against the parent company, VF Corporation. Note especially the bold text, which we added.

SAN FRANCISCO - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has filed suit against San Leandro based VF Corporation for the alleged sale and distribution of unregistered pesticides through their retail company, The North Face.

The EPA maintains that The North Face made unsubstantiated public health claims regarding unregistered products, and their ability to control germs and pathogens -- a violation of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act. Products discovered online and evidence found at The North Face retail store in San Francisco led the Agency to issue a complaint against the VF Corporation.

"The EPA takes very seriously its responsibility to enforce against companies that sell products with unsubstantiated antimicrobial properties," said Katherine Taylor, associate director of the Communities and Ecosystems Division in EPA's Pacific Southwest region. "Unverified public health claims can lead people to believe they are protected from disease-causing organisms when, in fact, they may not be."
At issue were more than 70 styles of footwear that incorporated an AgION silver treated footbed. The company sold the products making unsubstantiated claims that the footwear would prevent disease-causing bacteria. Specifically, The North Face made the following public health claims about the footwear on-line and on product packaging:

• "AgION antimicrobial silver agent inhibits the growth of disease-causing bacteria"

• "Prevents bacterial and fungal growth"

• Continuous release of antimicrobial agents

After being contacted by EPA, The North Face stopped making claims that their footwear protects against germs, removed claims from their website, and revised their product packaging.

Products that kill or repel bacteria or germs are considered pesticides, and must be registered with the EPA prior to distribution or sale. The Agency will not register a pesticide until it has been tested to show that it will not pose an unreasonable risk when used according to the directions. Consumers should be careful to look for the EPA registration number printed on product labels, and to follow the directions for proper use.

How product designers define this need for pesticide addition is one of life's continuing mysteries. Last I heard, playing footsie or rubbing boots with the guy next to you on a bus are not behind the spread of Swine Flu. What's up with the marketing power behind this idea? Were focus groups asked what new features they wanted in footwear, demanding pesticidal inserts? Or, did some silver-salt peddler tempt the designers?

If you are a hunter you will have noticed the many brands of shoes and clothing said to 'block scent;' implying that the deer or whatever will not notice the stink of manliness from guys spending days afield without shower. (Being careful here not to mention actual brand names because I have not researched the materials or mechanism of said odor "blocking.") I think this claim is pretty funny, though, because it presumes some product designer in China knows what North American deer do and don't smell emanating from petroleum based clothing, which almost all of it is, and because men of my fathers' generation somehow got their buck without such claptrap.

All of which reinforces the notion that Americans are very superstitious with their shopping habits.

Previous posts on VF Corp. and North Face.
Fossil Fabrics Are Sexy - Like Self-Destructing Celebrities ...
Planet Surfwear Combines Organic Surf Under One Roof
All the Benefits of Solar PV Without The Financial Risk: The Solar ...
Other posts on silver ion as pesticide.
Beware The Silver Lining: A Risk Management Review Of Commercial ...
Nano, Nano, Everywhere: the Nano Dishwasher

North Face Environmental FAIL: Disease-Preventing Footwear Claims Retracted
If a manufacturer claims that a consumer product suppresses bacterial growth to the

Related Content on