Personal Care: How the three organic standards compare

USDA's National Organic Program (NOP) standard:
What is it: Congress passed the Organic Food Production Act (OFPA) in 1990, which required the US Department of Agriculture to develop national standards for organically produced agricultural products. The USDA set up the National Organic Program (NOP), and the organic standard went into effect in October 2002.

The standard defines the word "organic"with regard to ingredients and agricultural processes for food products. If a cosmetic, body-care product, or personal-care product meets the standards, it may be eligible to be certified for a USDA Organic seal. To gain that seal, the products must originate from farms or handling operations that have been certified by a state or private certifying agency — of which there are hundreds.

Its criteria: Generally considered an outstanding rule for food, the NOP programme has three USDA organic seals: "100 per cent organic" for products only made from organic ingredients (excluding water and salt); "organic" for products with 95 per cent organic content; and "made with organic ingredients" for products with at least 70 per cent organic content. In the latter category, the principal display panel may list up to three of the organic ingredients or food groups it contains.

Its history: There were more than 40 different organic-food standards in the US prior to the implementation of this national standard. The rule took more than 12 years to develop, and the USDA received nearly 300,000 comments during the process.

Its impact: Because the program is process-, not product-based, the NOP certifies 'organic operations' — not products. Therefore, the agency has no way of knowing how many personal-care products carry one of its three 'organic' designations.

How it differs: The NOP Standard was the basis for the NSF/ANSI 305 Standard, which is an organic designation particular to personal-care products. Because the NOP was designed for food products, however, it has limited applicability in personal care because of needs unique to personal-care manufacture.


NSF/ANSI 305 standard:
What is it: The NSF/ANSI 305 standard was adopted in February 2009 by NSF International in accordance with American National Standards Institute. (ANSI is a private organization that administers the US voluntary standardization assessment system.) The standard establishes materials, processes, production criteria and conditions specifically for personal-care products that contain organic ingredients; this includes rinse-off and leave-on personal-care and cosmetics products, as well as oral-care and personal-hygiene products.

Its criteria: NSF/ANSI 305 allows a "Contains Organic Ingredients" designation for products with organic content of 70 per cent or more. It allows for limited chemical processes that are typical for personal-care products but would not be allowed for food products, provided they are environmentally and biologically benign. This includes hydrogenation, hydrolysis, esterification and transesterification.

The philosophy behind it: "NSF/ANSI 305 establishes a level playing field by setting requirements for organizations choosing to comply with an American National Standard for personal-care products that contain organic ingredients," explained Lorna Badman, senior standards specialist with NSF International. "This is an important step for manufacturers and retailers that produce and sell organic personal-care products, as well as for consumers interested in protecting the environment, who choose to purchase certified-organic products."

Its backers: NSF/ANSI 305 was developed with the parties directly and materially affected by the scope of the standard, Badman said. This includes organic personal-care manufacturers, trade associations, regulators, organic-program administrators and organic-product retailers. A public comment period also allowed additional feedback on the standard requirements.

Its impact: The first NSF/ANSI 305-certified products are expected to hit store shelves by the end of the year.

How it differs: NSF/ANSI follows the rules of the USDA's National Organic Program, but expanded the scope to cover processes that are specific to the production of personal-care products. An example is esterification (a reaction of a carboxylic acid and an alcohol in the presence of an acidic substance), which is allowed under NSF/ANSI 305 but not the NOP.


OASIS Standard:
What is it: OASIS, an industry trade group whose name is an acronym for "organic and sustainable industry standards" created its organic standard for the US personal care market in March 2008.

Its criteria: The standard offers two labelling criteria: "Made With Organic" must have a minimum of 70 per cent organic content; and "Organic" must have 85 per cent organic content. The latter will increase to 90 per cent by January 2010, and to 95 per cent by 2012.

The philosophy behind it: "The OASIS standard was founded on the concept that the cosmetics industry as a whole has a lot of work to do on sustainable production," Timmons said. "We felt the best way to do that was to come together as an industry and look at what's in bottle, the bottle, and how we get it in the bottle. All felt the whole world is going in direction of sustainability, and organic is one measurement of sustainability. We wanted to look at ways to measure and help promote and improve other methods of describing and measuring sustainable production. We also believed it was necessary to create a standard that permitted certain benign processes necessary in for the manufacture and storage of personal-care products."

Its backers: OASIS consists of 30 founding members, including Aveda Corp, Cognis Corp, Estee Lauder, L'Oreal and The Hain-Celestial Group.

Its impact: Because OASIS has been named as a defendant in the lawsuit filed by Dr Bronner's, the group has indefinitely suspended its voluntary organic certification program.

How it differs: OASIS follows the rules of the USDA's National Organic Program, but expanded the scope to cover processes that are specific to the production of personal-care products. The differences from NOP are largely identical to the differences permitted by the NSF/ANSI 305 Standard. OASIS and NSF/ANSI standards differ from each other in their labelling schemes.


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