Clean Label Project’s Reason for Being

Clean Label Project’s Reason for Being

To paraphrase Shakespeare, sometimes the food and consumer packaged goods industry “doth protest too much, methinks.” Over the last three years, I’ve noticed something of a pattern – I raise my hand and say something apparently revolutionary like “I think lead is bad for children and shouldn’t be in baby products” or “I think endocrine disruption chemicals in packaging that can leech into food is a bad idea” and yet somehow every time I do, a “usual suspects” lineup of brands and trade associations gather to suggest something nefarious in my observations and positions.

Forget for a moment that most major regulatory bodies the world over acknowledge that there is no safe level of lead. Forget that just this week a prospective national study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that higher urinary BPA levels were associated with a 49% higher risk of all-causes of death over a 10 year period, concluding that it is “imperative and important to minimize human exposure to BPA.” Forget that numerous governmental and peer-reviewed studies have agreed with me that contaminants in food and consumer packaged goods products can be reduced or eliminated. At a certain point, you have to wonder why these groups scamper, Pavlovian, to line up in the “toxic lead is good for babies” or “heavy metals are in the earth’s crust and that means they are ok”, camp – maybe it’s something I said? Or maybe, just maybe, there’s some other motive at play…

At the end of the day, however, I’m going to keep raising my hand and pointing out that consumers deserve better and brands can achieve better. So, I’m writing this today to re-affirm what we’ve always said here at Clean Label Project: When it comes to toxins and contaminants in the products we use every day, less is better than more.


Clean Label Project believes in a few simple truths:

Brand Accountability: We believe that brands should know what’s in their products, both the good and the bad. If a brand claims to be clean, safe, or better, they should have the data to back that up. If they don’t have the data to back that claim up, then they shouldn’t be making the claim.

Consumer Transparency: We believe that you, the consumer, deserve to know both what is in (and not in) the products you buy, but you also deserve to know when a brand feeds you a line of bullshit masquerading as facts. We believe that consumers make different, better purchasing decisions when they know all the facts – not just the marketing noise.

That the very best products deserve to win in the marketplace. The old adage holds true- “it’s what’s on the inside that counts”. Marketing bullshittery is rampant in food and consumer products. Clean Label Project believes that data and science can help brands differentiate themselves from the status quo and empower the consumer to make more informed choices for themselves and their families. Through analytical chemistry testing, data, and benchmarking, you can see the difference between legitimate product superiority and what is nothing more than a well-funded marketing campaign.


Truthfully, the Clean Label Project isn’t for everyone. There is a chorus line of corporations who dislike the spotlight I shine on their nonsense. To clarify, if you own a brand and are wondering if Clean Label Project may be right for you:

  • If you set your definition of quality and safety as simply achieving the absolute minimum necessary to meet regulatory tolerances, Clean Label Project is not for you.
  • If you view state regulations that have been instated in the spirit of consumer protection and public health (such as Prop 65) as “overly burdensome” or “unrealistic,” Clean Label Project is not for you.
  • If you are asked about heavy metal contaminant controls within your quality systems and deflect by quoting only the portion of the FDA website that says that “heavy metals are naturally occurring” but conveniently leave out the subsequent statement about human causes including industrial agriculture and pollution as additional sources, Clean Label Project is not for you.
  • If you are looking for pat on the back for having test results that don’t necessitate a voluntary or mandatory recall, but still may pose a long-term health risk to consumers, Clean Label Project is not for you.


On the other hand, if you:

  • Recognize that there is a growing divide between the court of law and court of public opinion of the definition of food and consumer product safety, Clean Label Project applauds your foresight.
  • Share in Clean Label Project’s opinion that the consumer is the ultimate arbiter of what’s important and that they know what considerations are of most value in making the decision to purchase any food or consumer product for themselves or their family, Clean Label Project shares in your ideals.
  • Agree that there is growing consumer cynical sentiment rooted in distrust of the food system and that consumers are looking for brands that proactively and voluntarily give a damn about minimizing exposure to glyphosate, heavy metals, and plasticizers not because they have to, but because they want to, Clean Label Project wants to elevate your profile. Clean Label Project wants to shift the demand curve your way.


At the end of the day, the consumer expectation is changing. Consumers want to know the truth – they’re tired of being fed nonsense by marketers. Every day, I find it amazing that I know more about what is in products than the manufacturer of those products. Long ago, I decided the responsible thing to do would be to tell consumers what I know, to help them make better choices. At that moment when I’ve raised my hand, the brand has a choice – do they back up their marketing bullshit, or do they proclaim “nothing to see here, move along” and stick their heads’ in the sand? History is replete with examples of brands who happily sat with their heads in the sand as the zeitgeist changed around them. The question that brands need to ask themselves is if they want to one of them.



Jackie Bowen,
Executive Director of Clean Label Project