VF Outdoor to Pay Fine Over Bacteria Claims

VF Outdoor Inc. will pay a $207,500 fine after allegedly making unsubstantiated “antimicrobial protection” claims in the hangtags of shoes sold by its San Leandro, Calif.-based The North Face division, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Thursday.

According to a release, the EPA first issued a complaint against The North Face in 2009, saying that under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act, any product that claims to kill or repel germs and bacteria is a pesticide and must be registered with the EPA before sale.

As Footwear News reported in September, the complaint centered on 30 or so styles (about 70 SKUs) of outdoor, running and multisport footwear that used Agion topsheets in the footbeds. (Agion is the maker of a silver-based antimicrobial technology widely used in the footwear world and counts brands such as Adidas, Ecco, Columbia, Timberland and Under Armour as clients.)

According to the EPA, the styles in question were available at retail between January and March 2008, with hangtags that said, “Agion antimicrobial silver agent inhibits the growth of disease-causing bacteria.” The EPA contends that The North Face made similar statements online.

Steve Rendle, then president of The North Face, now president of VF’s Outdoor Americas coalition, told Footwear News at the time that the company had removed the hangtags and online statements as soon as it was contacted by the EPA, but reiterated that while the wording of the product claims was at issue, the Agion technology in the shoes was correctly used. “We take our product very seriously and we take our relationship with our end user even more seriously,” he said. “There was nothing incorrect or wrong with the product.”