Fallowing a spate of claims of textiles made out of bamboo, the US and Canada have joined together to target textile and apparel products that are allegedly being sold and advertised as made of bamboo in violation of us and Canadian law. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced in February that it has sent letters to 78 retailers warning that they may be breaking the law by selling apparel and other textile products that are labelled and advertised as "bamboo" but are actually made of manufactured rayon fibre.

The FTC sued several companies in 2009 for allegedly committing similar violations. While the FTC acknowledges that it has seen action by some retailers to correct this problem, the letters are intended "as a wake-up call to all companies, regard less of their size."

Rayon is a man-made fibre created from the cellulose found in plants and trees and processed with harsh chemicals that release hazardous air pollution. Any plant or tree including bamboo- could be used as the cellulose source, but the fibre that is created is rayon. Textiles and apparel may be labelled as made of bamboo only if they are made directly with bamboo fibre (often called "mechanically processed bamboo"). Articles made with bamboo pulp that has undergone a chemical fibre-making process, however, must be labelled as made of rayon.

For its part, Canada's Competition Bureau announced in that it has launched a comprehensive effort to ensure that textiles and apparel sold in Canada are not labelled as made of bamboo when they are actually made of rayon, in accordance with the requirements of the Textile Labelling and Advertising Regulations. According to the Bureau, which has claimed considerable success in this regard, more than 450,000 textile and apparel articles have been relabelled in Canada and over 250 Web sites corrected as a resuIt of this effort. Canadian officials identified a total of 27 dealers that were offering products for sale with inaccurate labels as well as 94 on-line merchants advertising and selling products that were either inaccurately labelled or advertised in a misleading manner. The Bureau notes that it is not aware of any consumer textile articles made of natural bamboo fibre currently being sold in the Canadian marketplace.

The Bureau contacted a range of retailers, importers, manufacturers, sellers, processors and finishers to inform them of its concerns regarding certain textile labelling and advertising. These actions included letters and e-mails as well as direct discussions, on-site inspections and, in one instance, independent testing. Canadian authorities note that consumers may be paying a higher price for articles labelled as made of bamboo on the assumption that they have environmentally friendly or health enhancing qualities. The FTC and Canada's Competition Bureau have issued guidance designed to help businesses selling textiles and apparel that are labelled as being made of bamboo market their products in ways that are truthful, non-deceptive and in compliance with the law.

Originally published in The Stitch Times: April 2010