Europe Reformulates the World's Makeup

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You may have noticed that the Los Angeles Times is filling a void left by other US papers of record: they're actually covering green issues in depth, and without the usual xenophia. Under the headline "Europe's Rules Forcing U.S. Firms to Clean Up" of May 16th,2005 they explained how European rule-making is reshaping global product design. Treehugger recently gave excellent in depth coverage to the electronics dimension of this powerful trend. Another strong EU regulatory influence is in the personal care/beauty products arena. For the US-based companies who according to the LAT article are "Unwilling to surrender sales",... and struggling..."to meet the EU's tough stand on toxics": TreeHugger offers a clue; take a looky right here, we have plenty of good examples.Capsule from the article: "Already, Europe is setting environmental standards for international commerce, forcing changes in how industries around the world make plastic, electronics, toys, cosmetics and furniture. Now, the EU is on the verge of going further — overhauling how all toxic compounds are regulated. A proposal about to be debated by Europe's Parliament would require testing thousands of chemicals, cost industries several billion dollars, and could lead to many more compounds and products being pulled off the market".

TreeHuggers well know that the regluation of chemical commodities and health care product ingredients has "slowed" a bit...its the voluntary thing... and that this approach feeds consumer cynicism. What few realize is that the personal care ingredients overseen by the US FDA have always 'grandfathered' in many common items: meaning they've never really been evaluated for health risk. Diving into risk assessment headlong, the Europeans and to some extent the Japanese have stepped up to the challenge, causing a fair amount of grumbling, and accusations of "protectionism" from US companies and their proxies in the Federal Government.

The breadth of possible impact is huge: "...the EU, with 25 countries and 460 million people, surpasses even the United States as a market. Rather than lose access to it, many companies redesign their products to meet European standards"..."Cosmetics sold in Europe cannot contain about 600 substances that are allowed in U.S. products, including, as of last September, any compound linked to cancer, genetic mutations and reproductive effects".

Brand USA="dirty"; Brand EU="clean." That's a pretty straightforward pair of equations. To complete the reaction series, we add these two: Organic ="clean"; EU=>USA on the distribution of more "natural" health care products.

Putting these together we get some unpredictable situations. Market will change slowly. Over the short term, expect some unusual politics and M&A; activity. Hypotheticals: a mad scramble to snap up small personal health care makers or "emulate" their formulations; a "coat-tail" effect that benefits small pioneering companies when transnationals advertise their new "naturalized" products; attempts to keep US markets uninformed about what's happening elsehwere, or to spin those changes as foolish or economically unwise; legal challenges over intellectual property and manufacturing licensing rights; suits over copyright infringement, WTO grievance filings, and so on.

No matter what the outcome the eventual bottom line for TreeHuggers is good. The political culture of Washington DC is losing its stranglehold over choice. Design happens.