Whole Foods Cracks Down on ‘Organic’ Personal Care Products


Whole Foods Market wants organic personal care products to actually be organic before it agrees to carry them in stores. The company announced new guidelines last week raising the marketing standard for personal care and beauty products to that of the organic food it sells. Depending on the specific product claim, manufacturers will soon be required to meet the certification requirements of USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) or the NSF ANSI 305 standard for personal care products. In a statement, Joe Dickson, quality standards coordinator at Whole Foods, said: “We believe that the ‘organic’ claim used on personal care products should have just as strong a meaning as the ‘organic’ claim used on food products, which is currently regulated by USDA’s NOP.”

The Organic Consumers Association (OCA) applauded the move and began to pressure other large retailers of natural products to follow suit, singling out Trader Joe’s and the National Co-op Grocers Association. “The new Whole Foods policy is a major victory for people who want to stop washing petrochemical formulations all over their bodies and then down the drain,” said OCA Executive Director Ronnie Cummins. “These consumers want trusted options for real organic personal care.”

Whole Foods has asked it suppliers making any sort of organic claim to submit compliance plans by August 1, 2010, and achieve full compliance by June 1, 2011.

NBJ Bottom Line 

The debate over what constitutes organic in the beauty aisle continues to heat up. The Whole Foods policy will surely eliminate some of the organic fraud occurring in personal care, but on a broader level, it points to industry self-regulation as a still meaningful and viable option for addressing important consumer-facing issues. For a heavyweight like Whole Foods to regulate its suppliers to a higher standard than the government speaks to the natural & organics industry’s desire and ability to police itself.

Speaking of the U.S. government, Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) asked the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) to quickly investigate clinical evidence linking retinyl palmitate to skin cancer. The great irony here—beyond making this call to action just in time for summer—is the prevalence of retinyl palmitate in sunscreens. The compound is a stabilized derivative of vitamin A, common in sunscreens, anti-aging skin creams, cosmetics, and even low-fat milk products, where it replaces vitamin content lost in processing.

Taken together, these two bits of news in personal care signal a progression of the health and wellness claims consumers increasingly demand of their food products toward body care as well. If it goes in or on our bodies, more and more of us want it organic, and demonstrably so.

Related NBJ links:

Organic Standards Battle Heats Up for Companies Selling Personal Care

2009 Natural & Organic Personal Care & Household Products Report

NBJ’s 2009 Archived Natural & Organic Personal Care Web Seminar

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