Manufacturers of organic fiber and personal care products expected to have time beyond Oct. 21 to comply with the National Organic Program (see " NOP Just For Food Products," NFM, March 2002). But in early May, the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued the "Policy Statement on National Organic Program Scope" requiring all products, both food and nonfood, that use the word organic to meet established NOP standards.
Two organic industry sectors, fiber and personal care, now face a potentially devastating challenge.
The problem, organic fiber and personal care experts say, is that although standards for growing organic material for food, fiber and personal care are the same, processing nonfood products can call for materials not currently on the NOP's National List of approved processing aids and additives. The scope document took the organics industry by surprise, said Peter Murray, owner of Sustainable Systems Design in Ann Arbor, Mich., and a vice president of Organic Materials Review Institute.
Ingredients needed to process fiber and personal care products face a lengthy approval process before they can be included on the National List. Each must be recommended by the National Organics Standards Board after they commission a technical advisory panel review. Then it must receive NOP approval before it can be added to the National List. The process can take years.
The result is that manufacturers will not be able to label fiber and personal care products as organic after Oct. 21. That may dissuade many large manufacturers that were previously intrigued with organics from seeking certification.
"It will put a big damper on the [fiber] industry when it was ready to start soaring," said Sandra Marquardt, coordinator of the OTA's organic fiber council. "That's frustrating.
"Just when these companies are about to jump on the bandwagon and purchase [organic], they're told they'll pay more for it and that they won't be able to tell anybody about it. There's not much of an incentive for them to develop a more difficult and complicated program if they can't market it. Some companies have an ethic that will have them pursue organic, but most want to be able to use the label."
The organic fiber council is surveying members to determine how the scope document will affect them financially and which ingredients being used will need to go through the TAP process.
"The organic fiber sector is so close to having its own draft of industry standards for organic fiber processing that we found it doubly frustrating to not have the necessary time to put them into place," Marquardt said. "[USDA] knows that we've been developing these standards. Then, out of the blue, we're given months to come into compliance with a food-oriented list of ingredients."
The OTA plans to send the USDA a letter explaining financial ramifications manufacturers will face if they can't label nonfood items as organic. They also plan to ask for an extension to allow the fiber and personal care industries to put necessary ingredients through the TAP process. At press time, the letter was scheduled to be completed June 28.
"If we've come this far, and with the stroke of this interpretation, if we're not allowed to use the word organic on any fiber [or personal care] product it's a huge shipwreck," said La Rhea Pepper, president of Organic Essentials, manufacturer of personal hygiene products in O'Donnell, Texas. "It really could be that devastating. But I'm also hopeful that we will prevail. You know, the food industry had [more than] 10 years to implement what their materials were going to be and how they were going to regulate the process. We need to have time to go through the same growth process."
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIII/number 7/p. 1