In the last several decades there has been an extraordinary amount of energy put into creating awareness around what goes into our food and how we can take charge of our diets. The Nutrition Labeling and Education Act (NLEA) passed in 1990 and required food processing companies to disclose the ingredients of their packaged foods. And now, we’re looking at a new age and a new traction in policy over a different sector of consumer products that, similarly to food, is inserted instead of ingested and in a part of the body that many are arguing is more susceptible than the mouth. Yes, we’re talking about feminine hygiene products.
In March of 2013 we released an e-book called “Label Lessons: Your Guide to a Healthy Shopping Cart. In it we disclosed that feminine hygiene companies in the U.S. do not have to disclose the ingredients of menstrual pads and tampons because they are considered to be “medical devices.” At the same time, we launched a petition on Change.org that, to date, has garnered more than 18,000 signatures from women in over 50 countries
around the world. All we were asking for was transparency. In October of this year, Women’s Voices for the Earth staged a rally in front of Procter & Gamble’s headquarters in Cincinnati, Ohio. After presenting Procter & Gamble with the names from our petition, plus additional signatures from a petition on their own website, P&G published the ingredients of two of their brands: Tampax, and Always, on its website.
This is a critical success for a petition first introduced over two years ago. While it’s infuriating that the FDA doesn’t mandate companies that produce medical devices (like tampons and sanitary pads) to always label their products’ ingredients, P&G has finally recognized the voices of its consumers, and taken action to accommodate their demands.
Taking a Look Back
In Atlantic magazine’s article, “Tampon: A History” published in June of this year, Ashley Fetters aptly states, “…every time a tampon user pops in a Playtex Sport or a Tampax Pearl, she’s handling a disposable, absorbent totem of centuries of technological innovation and cultural influence. The commercial tampon as we know it has been shaped and re-shaped by a myriad of invisible forces-like genuine concern for women’s wellness, certainly, but also sexism, panic, feminism, capitalism, and secrecy.” Fetters has called out the lack of transparency of corporations in America in regards to the constant evolution of their product lines in stylized, yet direct way that’s becoming more and more common in mainstream writing.
What Fetters says is true. Every nuance of a period product from its packaging to the composition of the actual pad or tampon has been transformed numerous times to serve the interests of its creators- the “invisible forces” or the think tanks that are paid the big bucks to predict consumer behavior based on mainstream culture and dominant cultural narratives. And they aren’t humbled by any formidable regulations. Instead, we have a set of conglomerate companies who dance around deficient FDA regulations that seem to be more welcoming of new business in the U.S. than consistently safe products.
With the precedent set by our petition, our “Pads on Fire” video (which has received more than 86,000 views), and Women’s Voices rally, who’s to say that consumer advocacy groups cannot help develop this traction into measures of increased accountability on period products in the U.S.?
Community Organizing Through Narratives
Fierce leaders across the United States are doing the hard work of collecting narratives that reflect the alarm that should be inherent when using period products that are created by companies who aren’t held accountable and aren’t being transparent. After the tragic 2010 death of her young daughter, Amy Rae Elfritz, Lisa Elfritz made it her life’s mission to gather tales of terror about period product usage that are erased from mainstream consciousness. You can read page after page of narratives describing harrowing experiences with TSS (Toxic Shock Syndrome) on the You Are Loved website. It is a grassroots effort to recognize that Elfritz’s struggle is not just her own.
The seed planted by Lisa is what inspired model Lauren Wasser to tell her Toxic Shock Syndrome tale to Vice, which went viral recently. The stories of women who have experienced Toxic Shock Syndrome are coming to the forefront of American consciousness through the collective efforts of many. However, the question remains: what do we have left to do?
The history is there! It’s been written by the brilliant minds like that of Elissa Stein, of Rachel Kauder Nalebuff, and then substantiated by Dr. Phillip Tierno. And now we have Congresswoman Caroline Maloney, in conjunction with Naturally Savvy’s very own fierce leader, Andrea Donsky, and others, including feminine hygiene companies like Maxim Hygiene Products and Natracare, moving to garner support for the Robin Danielson Act, which would essentially mandate that the FDA and the National Institute of Health take a more active role in researching period products.
What Would Labeling Do for Women in the U.S.?
Other than the obvious reason of allowing women to have a choice in what they’re purchasing, having labels on feminine hygiene products would:
- Help women with allergies, vaginal irritation and sensitivities quickly identify which products are appropriate for their needs.
- Reduce the secrecy around product ingredients so that women could gain a greater understanding of what they’re exposing their bodies to.
- Allow for researchers to pursue inquiry work around TSS and other fatal correlations between feminine care products and physiological responses.
- Help consumers distinguish between organic cotton tampons, and and tampons made with cotton-like materials.
So, what do you say, don’t you think it would be worth your time tell your Congress representative to take a stand for the #tampontruth? Click here for a quick and easy to use tool that will help you communicate to your representative the importance of supporting the bill that will continue to push period progress forward!