FTC Saying We are Being Bamboozled???

Today I got word of the FTC charging 4 companies with mislabeling their bamboo products. This is from the FTC: “The Federal Trade Commission, the nation’s consumer protection agency, wants you to know that the soft “bamboo” fabrics on the market today are rayon. They are made using toxic chemicals in a process that releases pollutants into the air. Extracting bamboo fibers is expensive and time-consuming, and textiles made just from bamboo fiber don’t feel silky smooth.”

I of course don’t believe everything that I read, so I did some digging around today to find out what’s really going on. First of all, 3 companies “settled” with the FTC but did not agree they mislabeled anything. They don’t have the resources to fight the FTC, but one company, Bamboosa, is sticking up for their products.

I want to touch on a few subjects here since this has become a big issue for many people. It’s a bit long, so bear with me.

OK, first of all, the FTC doesn’t recognize bamboo fiber as being a fiber. What??? From what I learned, it would be pretty expensive to get bamboo classified as a fiber, so no one has tried to do it as of yet. So the FTC asked all companies selling bamboo products to conform to new labeling- so they now would go by rayon from bamboo or viscose bamboo instead of made with 100% bamboo fibers.

What is viscose you might ask- Viscose is a organic liquid used to make rayon. It is also used to make bamboo products. Here is how bamboo is manufactured in some plants: (wikipedia)

1) Bamboo leaves and the soft, inner pith from the hard bamboo trunk are extracted using a steaming process and then mechanically crushed

2) The crushed bamboo is soaked in sodium hydroxide to produce cellulose. A common misconception is that sodium hydroxide is a harmful chemical. If used in a responsible manner sodium hydroxide has absolutely no effect on the environment and health of workers. It is routinely used in the processing of organic cotton into fiber and is approved by the Global Organic Textile Standards (GOTS) and the Soil Association. Sodium hydroxide does not remain as a residue on clothing as it easily washes away and can be neutralized to harmless and non-toxic sodium sulfate salt. A chemical used in this step that can cause nervous system damage with chronic exposure is carbon disulfide.

3) The bamboo cellulose is forced through spinneret nozzles (like a sieve) into an acid bath that hardens the solution into bamboo fiber threads and neutralizes the caustic sodium hydroxide.

4) The fiber threads are spun into bamboo yarn and rolled onto spools.”

Yes, there are chemicals used to make bamboo fibers. There are no chemicals used in growing bamboo. The chemicals used in manufacturing the fabric can burn your skin if you touch them… but when you get the final product, all of the chemicals have been stripped so no toxic stuff will be touching your skin. Sodium hydroxide is used in washing and peeling fruits and veggies and also in chocolate pressing, soft drink processing, thickening ice cream and more. (Are you going to stop eating chocolate and ice cream? Didn’t think so)

So how is using chemicals Eco-friendly? Some bamboo manufacturers recycle their chemicals. They make sure they use and dispose of them properly so it doesn’t effect the environment or any humans. I heard of another practice where they use micro-organisms to clean the waste water in production, so the water and garments come out clean. After the fiber is processed it is certified to the OEKO Tex 100 standard for residual chemicals. Regular cotton production uses so many chemicals it’s insane. So you can choose to wear your chemicals with cotton or you can be more Eco-friendly and go with bamboo or organic cotton.

The FTC is claiming that bamboo is actually rayon and the 4 companies are misleading the consumer. Just because manufacturers are using the same process to make the fibers, doesn’t mean it’s automatically rayon. Since the FTC doesn’t have any documentation about bamboo fibers, they can’t reference their tests to anything except rayon.

Another thing the FTC is claiming is that viscose bamboo from these companies has no anti-microbial or biodegradable properties. When presented with test documents showing the antimicrobial properties of this fiber the FTC said the data was inconclusive. When the FTC issued their press release they did not take the position that it was inconclusive but that it was ‘conclusively not antimicrobial’. Bamboosa is working on additional testing to prove to the FTC that they are wrong in their accusations. Other companies have supplied test documents and the FTC just isn’t recognizing them as facts. As for being non-biodegradable, Lenzing Fibers certified lab tests show that cellulose fibers are biodegrade, even when chemically bonded- unlike polyester. So maybe the FTC needs to do some testing of their own!

Why??? You tell me! Maybe the government is trying to protect the cotton industry?? I think once bamboo is grown in the US and manufacturing plants are opened on US soil, this won’t be an issue. But until then, there will be tons of garbage out there knocking bamboo. If you own a bamboo product, you know the pluses.


10 thoughts on “FTC Saying We are Being Bamboozled???

  1. Anonymous says:

    I hope that since this was posted you've completed your education on “bamboo”. You failed to explain that rayon manufacturing is so hazardous it's manufacture is banned by the EPA. The only difference between the “bamboo” process and rayon is the source of the cellulose. Check out http://www.supereco.com/glossary/rayon/.


  2. Sandra says:

    Thanks anon, I did know before that Patagonia strongly opposed bamboo, so it doesn't surprise me.

    Now that bamboo has gained popularity and presents a real solution to ease the tolls on land from cotton farming (and even organic cotton farming), the FTC has done a great disservice to the American people.

    The FTC has foolishly revealed that they are all about protecting the interests of established cotton industries that are being threatened by the emergence of new fibers. The cotton industry has been threatened before in the 70's which is why they've banded together and successfully made cotton the best selling fiber in the world again in the 90's.

    In the end, I think it will backfire on them – there is no bad publicity – these 4 companies that were sued will probably reach record sales from all the one-way links, and bamboo is here to stay.


  3. Hi Michelle,

    Thanks for your informative and researched post. I've been on the phone the past few days with the FTC because unfortunately, my handmade doll business is affected by all this commotion too. I use “bamboo fiber” as one of the materials for my Swaddle Babies. After many calls to Fairfield, the manufacturer of the fiber, they confirmed their use of sodium hydroxide to process the “fiber.” Because FTC does not recognize this fiber, I am now required to relabel my dolls as containing viscose made from bamboo or rayon from bamboo (the two are interchangeable). It's very frustrating as a small business owner to deal with yet another issue that seems out of our control. The test results contradict the claims made by the FTC, yet here we are, having to deal with this mess.

    Priscilla, Swaddle Babies


  4. Sandra says:

    Thanks for your post Michelle. I wonder if you (or Bamboosa) could find out who were involved in the advisory process that led the FTC to issue the sensational consumer alert “Are you being bamboozled by bamboo?” I have a feeling the cotton industry is behind this. What's going on is nothing short of a witch hunt and I think the FTC should be investigated for being false and misleading to the consumer themselves.


  5. Anonymous says:

    Very refreshing Michelle!
    It's nice to see someone with some journalistic integrity. Many of the mindless drones out there…simply take what the FTC says at face value. There are 1000's of “make a living at home” websites out there, that are scamming unemployed people out of what little money they have left. These sites are doing real damage to real American folks…yet the FTC wants to dedicate time and resources to a game of semantics with small businesses that are run by honest, ethical people. I can vouch for two of the four companies anyway.
    The FTC's lack of willingness to actually consider real evidence that contradicts their claims, has to make one stop and question their motives.

    Mr. Bunny


  6. Mo says:

    Hey, Mo from Bamboosa here.

    First, thanks Michelle for doing a little research before you decided on the merits of the FTC action. We sincerely appreciate that!

    I'd like to comment to Coccinelle that the bamboo that Bamboosa uses is certified organic by the USDA NOP and the farm where the bamboo is grown is certified by OCIA. That should be an indication of sustainable harvesting practices.




  7. Hi Michelle, Your post is very informative and I completely agree with your commentary. I've worked on developing our new GO Greens Bamboo Gloves for over a year and I even investigated various bamboo fibers.

    In light of the FTC's efforts, I'm preparing to conduct advanced tests on our claims the same as I did for our UV protection claims.

    I'll be glad to keep you posted.

    BTW, we are in NC, too. You can check out our web site and the GO Greens at http://www.gloves-online.com or http://www.gogreensgloves.com

    I'll also be posting my test results on my Blog.

    Nice to find you blog, Joe


  8. Coccinelle says:

    Good article but you forget a big point: the way the bamboo is harvested!

    Not all bamboo is haversted sustainably, and it's hard to know because there is so little certification! Little companies have no such certification but I imagined in the future that it will become more and more common!

    BUT bamboo will always remain better than non-organic cotton in my opinion!


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