Organic certification has come a long way in the United States. Laws now govern organic production, and the Organic Trade Association even has textile standards. But for at least seven years, the Greenfield, Mass.-based OTA—and now Ann Arbor, Mich.-based NSF International—have struggled to reach agreement on an organic personal care standard. Companies can certify personal care products vegan or cruelty-free, but an organic standard remains elusive.
Meanwhile, in Europe, a slew of personal care labels has been blossoming—and is being noticed by consumers.
Germany, Italy, France and England all have standards—some required, some voluntary—that dictate organic and natural personal care. However, there is no pan-European legal standard for organic or natural personal care. And, as Gay Timmons, founder and president of Oh, Oh Organic in Los Gatos, Calif., and an organic certifier, says, "Right now we have a worldwide disaster" when it comes to all the different standards—including the impending U.S. version.
That makes things difficult for manufacturers wanting to go overseas, says Erk Schuchhardt, chief executive officer and president of Weleda Inc. USA, a company that offers European organic body care products and homeopathic medications. "When a company gets to a certain size, they say, 'What do we do next? Let's go to Europe.' They get bored and go to Europe," he says with a laugh. But they then face the problem of which standard to use. And, he notes, a further dilemma looms. "The difference is that while the United States is one domestic market of 300 million, in Europe it's all one economic or political entity, but not one market entity."
Back in the United States, what many consumers don't understand is that the cosmetic industry is self-regulated, Timmons says, while the food industry has a rigorous set of standards. "You can only call juice juice if it meets the law, but that's not true in cosmetics." And while writing personal care standards is a difficult process, she says, "It is in the best interest that we work together and come to a consensus." Timmons says that consensus should put agriculture first, as the European model generally does. "First, we have to get as many agricultural materials into these products as we can," she says. "And, when we have [a] big enough market, the technical requirements [of cosmetic processes] will be met." Further, she says, we must have a robust market to drive innovation in the natural and organic cosmetic world. "Food doesn't need technical development, cosmetics do," she says.
For his part, Schuchhardt says he can't see there will ever be a cosmetic law in the United States or Europe. He says Europe won't touch the issue because it would have to regulate it. Schuchhardt says the standard must be set from the nongovernmental side and it must create transparency. "It's the only way to create consumer confidence," he says.
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