When it comes to food, the definition of “organic” is extremely clear, thanks to the USDA’s National Organic Program standards, the Federal regulation that defines just how organic food is grown, raised, processed and sold. When it comes to shampoo, soap and make-up, however, the definitions are not so clear, since the USDA doesn’t have the same control over personal care products as it does over food. While many personal care products are certified under the USDA standards and many display the USDA Organic Seal, the USDA doesn’t currently have the authority to police organic claims on personal care products that aren’t
certified. In other words, any food
with “organic” on the label is subject to strict standards and enforcement by the Federal government, but personal care products are not.
In our own stores, however, we’ve taken a giant leap toward ensuring our shoppers that the word “organic” has the same strong meaning in every department of the store. Last week, we announced that as of June 1, 2011, all organic personal care products sold in our U.S. stores will have to be certified
organic. These guidelines will require quite a few of our suppliers to become certified, change their labels, reformulate their products and take other measures to comply with our guidelines
. We’re taking this huge step, and asking our suppliers to make these changes, because we believe very strongly that the meaning of the word “organic” shouldn’t change as you walk around the store. In the grocery aisles, an “organic” product is made of at least 95% organic agricultural materials grown using earth-friendly practices without toxic or persistent pesticides (and the remaining 5% can only contain carefully vetted substances from a short list of approved additives). Now, the word “organic” in our body care departments will signify that same set of ideals.
Here’s our guidelines in a nutshell:
- Products claiming to be “organic” – e.g. “Organic Shampoo” – must be certified to the USDA NOP standard, the same standard to which organic foods must be certified. This standard requires 95% organic ingredients and places strict restrictions on the substances that can be used in the remaining 5%.
- Products claiming to be “made with organic _____” – e.g. “Made with organic essential oils and extracts” – must be certified to the USDA NOP “made with organic” standard, which requires at least 70% organic ingredients and places strict restrictions on the substances that can be used in the remaining 30%.
- Products making the claim “contains organic _____” – e.g “Contains organic rosemary, clove and thyme oils” – must be certified to the NSF 305 Personal Care Standard. This consensus-based standard requires at least 70% organic ingredients, and like the USDA NOP standard, places strict restrictions on the substances that can be used in the remaining 30%. However, this standard allows for a small number of substances and processes that are not allowed in the USDA standard for food (since the standard as it exists now is aimed at food, not personal care), that have been carefully reviewed by the NSF International Joint Committee on Organic Personal Care (of which I’m a member), which is made up of manufacturers, retailers, regulators, certifiers, consumer groups and others stakeholders.
We’ve been very frustrated by years of confusion and misunderstanding in the marketplace about just what “organic” means in the body care aisles. We’ve seen all sorts of products with varying levels of organic content that claim to be organic, and it’s time to level the playing field. With this announcement, we’re ensuring that the organic label retains its strong meaning, and that organic personal care manufacturers have to go through the same level of oversight and practice the same level of integrity as food makers currently do. This will make it easier for shoppers to trust the organic label in our stores, and help the organic personal care products market evolve and grow.
Our hope is that someday the USDA will regulate organic personal care products just as it does food. In our testimony before the National Organic Standards Board last November, we expressed our strong support of the Board’s recommendation that the USDA regulate personal care products, and we commented that:
We and our shoppers expect a consistent definition of “organic” throughout the store, and the jurisdictional borders between Federal agencies should not ultimately derail this goal. The consistent regulation of the “organic” label across all product categories will increase consumer confidence, improve integrity, curtail deceptive labeling claims, and substantially increase the use of USDA Organic agricultural ingredients in personal care products.
In January, the FDA indicated that it was considering the issue, and in April, the USDA announced that it was pursuing discussions with the FDA. We are closely following the government’s work on this issue, and will continue to offer our perspective and guidance. We hope that the agencies work quickly to come up with a solution to this problem, but in the absence of government regulation, our new guidelines will ensure that our shoppers can trust the organic label no matter what department they’re shopping in.