The use of oil and petrochemicals in manufacturing bodycare products is something not all consumers consider when shopping. Additional confusion may be caused by the fact that some manufacturers label their products "organic" despite the presence of these ingredients. As yet, there is no official certification for this term on non-food products; the USDA cannot police products that have not been officially certified but choose to define themselves as organic.
Now Whole Foods Market has taken matters into its own hands, announcing that "all personal care products and cosmetics making an organic claim sold in its U.S. stores must be third-party certified by June 1, 2011."
This means they must meet the USDA's National Organic Program standard, the same standard to which organic food must be certified under U.S. law. Products claiming "made with organic ingredients" and "contains organic ingredients" must also be certified.
Suppliers have until August 1, 2010 to explain how they will change their labelling or formulations to comply with the new standard. Those that don't submit an explanation are expected to be dropped from store shelves over the coming year.
"Our shoppers do not expect the definition of organic to change substantially between the food and non-food aisles of our stores," said Joe Dickson, quality standards coordinator for Whole Foods, in a statement. "We believe that the organic claim used on personal care products should have just as strong a meaning to the organic claim used on food products, which is currently regulated by the USDA's National Organic Program."
A detailed list of requirements for all personal care products using the word organic on the product label followed his statement.
In recognition and praise of Whole Foods' new policy, the Organic Consumer's Association issued its own statement encouraging other retailers to follow suit. Ronnie Cummins, its co-founder and executive director, described it as "a major victory for people who want to stop washing petrochemical formulations all over their bodies and then down the drain." OCA has been orchestrating a "Coming Clean Campaign" since 2004, trying to encourage selectivity amongst retailers and regulation from the USDA, claiming that without accreditation, "the main cleansing ingredients and preservatives are usually made with synthetic and petrochemical compounds."
Discussion Questions: What do you think of mandated certification standards
for personal care products making organic claims? Should other retailers
follow suit? Is there strong consumer demand for organic and/or "natural" claims
around bodycare products?
[Author's commentary] In addition to the fury, grief and frustration generated by the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico comes a growing awareness of the ways in which we use (and depend on) oil. Over the past few years, many have realized that there is more to it than the fuel used to transport products around the world and power the factories that make those products. There has also been much publicity surrounding its use in creating the packaging for said products. And, of course, transporting the packaging to the products. But Whole Foods is conflating two separate issues. Firstly, organic certification and how to ensure its consistency. Secondly, removing petrochemicals from bodycare products. Achieving the second may be a prerequisite and enabler for the first but lumping them together in this way could be overly-complicated and counter-productive.
Is the need for certification of 'organic' claims around personal care products just as important as food?