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Yet another personal care seal?

As if natural and organic personal care standards and certifications weren’t confusing enough, another label just entered the ring. This week the U.S. Department of Agriculture introduced its “Biobased” certification to denote “commercial or industrial products whose main ingredients are renewable plant or animal materials.”

For a personal care product to score a USDA Certified Biobased Product label, it “meets or exceeds the amount of biobased content required for product certification; this content varies according to the type of biobased product certified.”

Confused? I am. But I think I’ve muddled through the language enough to break it down.

Basically, this new labeling program is an extension of the USDA’s BioPreferred initiative, launched by the 2002 Farm Bill to promote government purchases of biobased products. And now, manufacturers of biobased personal care can apply to have their products labeled as such. If a product falls under a category already included in the BioPreferred program, the percentage of biobased content must meet that outlined by BioPreferred. If the product’s category is not specified under BioPreferred, then the product must be 25 percent biobased.

Whew. Still not super palatable.

I don’t know. I really can’t denounce any promotion of natural ingredients, especially extending into the toxin-laden personal care world. But what will another natural seal really mean to consumers? If I’m confused about it—and I get paid to research this stuff—what will it really do for the average natural products store shopper trying to make sense of all these labels? Especially when this one doesn’t come from a private certifying body but the same U.S. government agency that shepherds perhaps the toughest PC certification to earn, the USDA Organic seal.

Maybe this seal will mean more to mainstream personal care brands trying to differentiate their natural-leaning products from the more toxic sludges. Or, maybe it will come to be a valuable tool for naturals shoppers, too. I just know I can’t wait for the day when personal care has a universal, clear-cut set of standards.  

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