The Federal Anti Tampering Act: Criminal Offense To Tamper With Consumer Products

Antitrust & Trade Law: Consumer Protection

The Federal Anti-Tampering Act of 1983 (Act) makes it a federal criminal offense to tamper with consumer products or to engage in related conduct. The Act was enacted as a result of the Tylenol poisoning deaths that occurred in Chicago in 1982.

The Act does not prevent state or local authorities from prosecuting persons for conduct that violates the Act. The federal government often refers cases to state and local authorities when there is no significant federal interest in the prosecution.

Under the Act, a person commits a federal criminal offense if he or she tampers with or attempts to tamper with any consumer product that affects interstate or foreign commerce. A consumer product includes food, drugs, devices, cosmetics, and any other household product that is consumed by individuals or that is used for personal care or for household services. Household products include waxes, detergents, air fresheners, or any other product that is intended to be used up or consumed. They do not include durable goods, such as vacuum cleaners, brooms, or brushes, which are not intended to be used up or consumed.

A person commits a federal criminal offense if he or she tampers with or attempts to tamper with the labeling or the container of any consumer product that affects interstate or foreign commerce. The term “labeling” includes the label on the product or any other written material that accompanies the product, such as instructions. A tampering with the labeling or the container includes the falsification or alteration of the written material. In order to be convicted of the offense, the person’s tampering must be done with reckless disregard for another person’s death or bodily injury. The person’s tampering must also be done under circumstances that exhibit an extreme indifference to the risk of death or bodily injury.

Under the Act, a consumer product must affect interstate or foreign commerce in order for a violation of the law to occur. The commerce requirement has been interpreted by some courts to mean a loss of sales or an interstate investigation as a result of the tampering. The product may affect commerce while it is being manufactured, being distributed, being held for sale, or if after being removed from the retail process, it is put back into the retail process. The Act does not apply to the tampering with a product after it has been purchased at retail and has been brought into a home for use. Whether the product affects commerce is a question of fact and not a question of law.

A person also commits an offense under the Act if he or she taints a consumer product that affects interstate or foreign commerce or makes the labeling or the container of the consumer product materially false or misleading with the intent to cause serious injury to the business of another person. Although the Act does not define the word “taint,” it has been interpreted to have a broader meaning that the word “tamper.” The word “taint” has also been interpreted to mean a modification of the product with a trace of something that is offensive or an infection, a contamination, or a corruption of the product.

A person commits an offense under the Act if he or she knowingly communicates false information that a consumer product has been tainted when the product or the results of the communication affect interstate or foreign commerce. In order to be convicted of this offense, it must be proven that the falsely alleged tainting, if it had in fact occurred, would have created a risk of death or bodily injury to another person. The Act applies even if the consumer product no longer affects interstate or foreign commerce. If the false communication causes actions to be taken, which actions affect interstate or foreign commerce, the Act applies.

A person commits an offense under the Act if he or she threatens to tamper with a consumer product that affects interstate or foreign commerce. The offense may be committed even if a person does not demand money or other consideration. The threat is only required to be credible in order for the person to be convicted of the offense. In addition, a person commits an offense under the Act if he or she engages in a conspiracy to tamper with a consumer product that affects interstate or foreign commerce.