Natural Foods Merchandiser

Personal Care Standards Brouhaha Brewing

While an Organic Trade Association task force works on organic standards for personal care products, another group is already accusing the task force of watering down those standards.

Members of the Little Marais, Minn.-based Organic Consumers Association circulated a petition at Natural Products Expo West in March stipulating that the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Organic Program personal care standards address the issue of hydrosols, or essential oils distilled in water. Nearly 500 people signed the petition, and about 50 retailers agreed to put the petition in their stores, OCA spokesman Adam Eidinger said.

OTA Executive Director Katherine DiMatteo said the OTA personal care standards task force is equally divided on the hydrosol issue. Some members believe that hydrosol mixtures should be allowed in certified organic personal care products. Others, such as OCA, think hydrosols dilute personal care ingredients so that the product is mostly water with little organic content.

"Most body care products on the market today that make organic claims on the front label contain organic ingredients amounting to less than 5 percent of nonwater/nonsalt weight," the OCA petition claims.

The petition calls for organic body care standards that stipulate a minimum of 70 percent nonwater/nonsalt agricultural organic content in order for a personal care product to qualify for a "made with organic ingredients" seal.

"Body care products that are generally [85 percent to 90 percent water] can simply add 30 percent organic floral waters to get them to 70 percent organic content for a product that is otherwise indistinguishable from nonorganic conventional formulations," said David Bronner, president of Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps and a member of OCA and the OTA personal care standards task force.

But Tom Hutcheson, OTA's associate policy director, said NOP food standards allow that to happen. An organic tea can be added to an organic fruit juice and the resulting fruit punch, though mostly water, can be certified organic. "But if the personal care people want to raise the bar, we're all for that," he said.

Joe Smillie, senior vice president of Quality Assurance International, said the organic personal care certification process is about as mature as the food certification process was 20 years ago.

Currently, there are no national organic standards for personal care products. The OTA task force, which has about 22 voting members from the personal care manufacturing and certifying industry, is scheduled to bring its recommendations to OTA's quality assurance committee in the fall. Those recommendations will then be discussed, voted on and forwarded to the USDA for consideration.

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