Photo of Sheila MillarPhoto of Jean-Cyril Walker

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is proposing updates to its labeling and packaging requirements under the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act (FPLA), including deleting specific requirements for commodities advertised using terms such as “introductory offer,” “cents off,” and “economy size.” The proposed changes would also modernize place-of-business requirements, allowing businesses to omit addresses if their street addresses is available online or in any other “readily accessible, widely published, and publicly available resource.” The new rule would also incorporate a comprehensive metric chart from the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST) Handbook 130. The interplay of FPLA requirements with state laws, however, should not be ignored.

The FPLA was enacted in 1967 to help consumers evaluate and compare the value of competing products, and to prevent certain unfair and deceptive packaging and advertising practices. To achieve this goal, the Act requires the labeling of certain household goods or “consumer commodities” with the common name or identity of the product, the net quantity or content of the product, and the name and address of the product’s manufacturer, packer, or distributor of the product. In March 2014, the FTC sought public input on the Act to ensure the Act maintains its relevance, which led to this proposal. Importantly, not all products are “consumer commodities” under the FPLA. The Act covers products that are expendable commodities for consumption by individuals, used for personal care, or used for household services, such as adhesives, or light bulbs, but does not cover non-expendable products such as appliances or toys.

Note that even if a product does not qualify as a consumer commodity under the FPLA its package labeling may be subject to similar labeling requirements under state weights and measures statutes. Most states have enacted some version of the Uniform Weight and Measures Law and Uniform Packaging and Labeling Regulations set out in NIST Handbook 130 (Uniform Laws and Regulations in the Areas of Legal Metrology and Engine Fuel Quality) and Handbook 133 (Checking the Net Contents of Packaged Goods). The FTC’s FPLA modernization effort is welcome, but other requirements must also be kept in mind when developing product labels.