Consumer demand for organic personal care products is growing, fueled by press coverage of potentially dangerous chemicals in conventional cosmetics and other personal care items. But the lack of federally defined organic standards for the cosmetic industry is creating controversy and confusion.
In April 2004, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) revised the National Organic Program, declaring that the program would exclude personal care products. That decision drew sharp criticism from the Organic Consumers Assn. (OCA) as well as industry representatives. “The Organic Consumers Association condemns the USDA failure to regulate organic labeling, in particular for personal care products,” said Ronnie Cummins, executive director of the OCA. He added, “Manufacturers of personal care products labeled ‘organic’ or ‘made with organic ingredients’ will be completely unregulated from now on— opening the door to massive labeling fraud— while punishing companies that have made significant investments in certified organic ingredients in recent years.”
The USDA’s decision was based on the fact that the original law establishing the agency mandated that USDA regulate agricultural products. In September, a scope document was prepared for consideration by the National Organic Standards Board that stated personal care products are under the jurisdiction of the FDA and may not display the USDA organic seal or imply they are produced or handled to NOP standards. The decision to exclude personal care products creates a regulatory vacuum, since FDA has thus far not stepped in and regulated organic personal care.