Once in a while we have to "kill" a story that one of our dedicated reporters, and often an editor or two, has devoted serious work to. For one reason or another, the piece doesnâ€™t work out. Usually itâ€™s because we canâ€™t get the sourcing or verification needed to meet our extremely high vetting standards. Sometimes a story just doesnâ€™t prove itself, even when the reporter does everything right.
One such case is a short article we assigned to freelance contributor Julie Sabatier. Our assignment committee wasnâ€™t thrilled about the story, but no one was covering it and for some reason it caught our attention, so we passed it to Julie who made some calls and wrote up a nice little narrative with fine sourcing.
Iâ€™m pasting a near-finished version here, because we want Julieâ€™s and our work to be exposed and we really want your feedback, but we donâ€™t think this is quite TNS material, for reasons Iâ€™ll explain below.
EPA Approves Cause Marketing on Safety Labels
By Julie Sabatier
The US Environmental Protection Agency plans to allow commercial manufacturers of bleach, pesticides and other toxic substances to display promotions for causes and charities on their productsâ€™ safety labels.
The government watchdog group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) criticized the emerging policy, saying the so-called "cause marketing" will take up important label space traditionally reserved for safety information.
"The label is already crowded, and most of the safety information is in fine print, and one of the concerns weâ€™ve raised is that these slogans and symbols just distract consumer attention away from the important information about safe and proper use of the product," PEER executive director Jeff Ruch told The NewStandard.
The EPA is required by law to regulate the information printed on labels for registered pesticides, poisons, fungicides and anti-microbial agents. The policy change came in response to a request from the Clorox Company. Clorox wants to advertise its pledge to donate a small percentage of its revenue from bleach sales to the Red Cross.
EPA guidelines emphasize safety and usage information on labels and discourage any "symbols implying safety or non-toxicity, such as a Red Cross or a medical seal of approval."
But the EPA will now allow Clorox to put the Red Cross logo on bottles of its chlorine bleach, which is poisonous.
Asked about the apparent contradiction with EPA policy, Enesta Jones of the Agencyâ€™s press office told TNS: "We made this decision after carefully reviewing the results of a [Clorox]-sponsored consumer survey which reported that the charitable donation elements of the product label was neither misleading nor did it imply safety. In fact, the labeling still provides consumers with the information they need to use the products safely. EPA did not make an exception, nor is it compromising consumer safety."
Yet the EPA initially denied the request, agreeing to change the policy only after a second meeting with Clorox representatives in July.
Kristine Templin, director of corporate partnerships and cause marketing for the American Red Cross, said the charity welcomes EPAâ€™s policy change. "Bleach is a tool used in disaster response and recovery, so a visible partnership with Clorox is an organic extension of our work," Templin said. "Inclusion of Red Cross information on Clorox bleach products has created a unique opportunity to educate the public."
Simple enough, but maybe you can see why were werenâ€™t bowled over by this. Sometimes when you hear just one side of a story, especially when presented by a public-interest group, the narrative carries an appeal that later proves unwarranted. I said this is "near final" because, in truth, we stopped editing it when we realized that our last round of skeptical vetting would have wittled PEER's claims pretty much out of the article.
As much as there is no love lost between The NewStandard and the EPA, let alone Clorox Co., we really couldnâ€™t see the substance behind PEERâ€™s complaint. A look at Clorox labels made us uncertain that the red cross would cause any problem at all. Then, after Julie got the Red Crossâ€™s response, we suspected there wasnâ€™t much left to the conflict.
Sure, weâ€™re aware the Red Cross may be more interested in raising funds than protecting the public. But it seems that since bleach is used as a medical disinfectant, and since itâ€™s unlikely someone will drink a cup of Clorox to cure something, we thought it important not to dilute TNSâ€™s coverage of true public-interest crises and conundrums with something like this.
But weâ€™d love to hear what readers think about our decision. (And, yes, Julie still gets full payment for the story.)