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CERAMIC DECORATING: Industry Regulation Heats Up

October 1, 2009
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This column examines a number of important legislative issues that have recently surfaced in the ceramic industry.

The TPCH is reclassifying as packages some items previously reviewed and found not to be packages.


A number of important legislative issues that affect our industry surfaced recently. While the Society of Glass and Ceramic Decorated Products (SGCDpro) was working hard with the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) to stay enforcement of the labeling provision of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA), another issue surfaced by way of the Food Safety Enhancement Act (H.R. 2749). Additionally, the Toxics in Packaging Clearing House (TPCH) changed long-standing regulations that consider decorated bottles and other glass packaging to be single component packaging.

Food Safety Enhancement Act

The Food Safety Enhancement Act (H.R. 2749) includes provisions that mandate the labeling of ceramic tableware and cookware that contains lead. The legislation also includes a provision mandating education of consumers on the proper use of ceramic tableware and cookware. The provision would require labeling of glazed and decorated ceramic tableware, cookware and packaging with one of two statements:
  • “This product is made with lead-based glaze consistent with Food and Drug Administration guidelines for such lead.” or
  • “The product is in compliance with the requirements applicable to ornamental and decorative ceramicware in section 109.16 of title 21, Code of Federal Regulations (or any successor regulations).”
How did this happen? Over two years ago, Congressman Jim Matheson (D-Utah), whose wife is a pediatrician, learned of a case where a nursing mother in Utah reportedly had unwittingly passed lead poisoning to her infant. The suspected cause was the mother’s microwaving of her own food in an old ceramic dish. It is questionable whether this was the actual source of the baby’s lead poisoning.

The case caused the congressman’s office to begin collecting clips from various media on lead in ceramicware. They found one case, subsequently shown to be totally inaccurate, involving Martha Stewart dinnerware. The facts in that case were never reported to the public. Another TV video clip shows a reporter with a technician using an X-ray fluorescent gun that showed there was lead in the outside of ceramic mugs, some plates and a pewter beer mug.

Uninformed about the relevance of such misleading media claims about the very presence of lead in such items, the congressional office developed an amendment in the Food Safety Enhancement bill to require labeling if any lead was included in any food serviceware. Approved by the House on July 30, the legislation is intended to enhance the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) ability to address food safety arising from agricultural issues following several recent recalls of food due to salmonella concerns. The ceramic labeling provision and another relating to plastics are considered to be extraneous to the purpose of the bill.

The SGCDpro has joined with the Coalition for Safe Ceramicware to hire a lobbyist who specializes in FDA and consumer issues. He and SGCDpro President Ed Weiner met on Tuesday, August 11, with majority and minority staff in the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee. At the meeting, Weiner pointed out that periodic tainted imports of ethnic ware from Mexico and Asia are virtually without exception the source of reported cases of lead exposure involving tableware. Forcing reputable companies in the industry to label their products adds to their costs in an increasingly price-competitive market and won’t prevent the problem with bad imports; the better remedy would be to give the FDA more resources for testing and enforcement.

The SGCDpro has no objections to requirements in the House bill for an FDA consumer education program that is already in existence on the FDA website. The SGCDpro told the HELP Committee it is willing to coordinate with the FDA to enhance its public education program.

Weiner has urged members in key states to fax letters to their senators urging them to leave the labeling requirements out of the Senate bill. The SGCDpro is planning to hold follow-up meetings and will make a strong case for the conference committee between the House and Senate to delete this egregious provision from the final bill when it comes up later this year.

TPCH Expanding Definition of Packaging

At press time, the Toxics in Packaging Clearinghouse (TPCH) was about to reverse a long-standing determination that vitrified labels on glass bottles constitute a single package component. If held, this reversal would require that each ceramic enamel be certified as meeting TPCH limits prior to being applied and fired onto the substrate. The SGCDpro strenuously objects to this reversal of a long-held TPCH policy and will notify members when a decision is made.

In a separate development, as a result of a major retailer developing strict requirements for all suppliers to provide Toxics in Packaging certifications, the TPCH is reclassifying as packages some items previously reviewed and found not to be packages. Although the SGCDpro secured an opinion long ago from the TPCH that glass objects such as apothecary jars holding candle wax were not considered a package, a recent inquiry from a test lab raised the issue anew. TPCH member states reviewed the photographs sent by the lab and changed their guidance.

According to the TPCH, “Member states agreed that, as a general category, candle containers are packages. There may be exceptions for candle containers that have ‘intrinsic value’ but any such interpretation would be on a case-by-case basis. That said, of the candle container photos that were provided, some member states considered all of them packaging.”

Photos of candle containers provided included Yankee Candles in an apothecary jar and one in a straight, lidded jar. Other candles were pictured in a small glass flower pot and a glass teacup made from a decorative mold.

Are You Labeling Children's Products?

August 14-the deadline for companies to provide permanent tracking labels on children’s products and their packaging-has come and gone. The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSAI) requires labels that provide source, production date and batch information to improve tracking and identification in the case of recalled products.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has ignored a formal request from the CPSIA Coalition organized by the NAM, to which the SGCDpro belongs, that urged that the implementation of this requirement be delayed to August 14, 2010. Very limited advice has been issued by the CPSC on how to implement this provision. One possibility suggested that labeling formats common in a given industry might be acceptable.

The SGCDpro is attempting to document how industry members are responding to this requirement. If you are labeling children’s products, please call (302) 645-9559 or e-mail sandyspence325@gmail.com to provide confidential information that will help the SGCDpro address ways to protect the industry should the CPSC eventually issue more specific guidelines. 

Any views or opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not represent those of Ceramic Industry, its staff, Editorial Advisory Board or BNP Media.

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