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As pressure grows on cosmetics companies to use more environmentally-friendly ingredients and packaging, we are seeing a profound increase in organic/natural claims on “green” beauty products. Terms such as “active naturals,” “botanical,” “natural,” “green,” and “organic” are bandied about regularly; however, these terms are meaningless without standard consensus definitions. Of these categories, only the term “organic” has a set of requirements associated with its labeling. Unfortunately, standards and definitions in the United States (US) and other countries vary.


The term “organic” was coined in 1940 by J.I. Rodale, who founded the Rodale book and magazine publishing empire with the publication Organic Farming and Gardening. In 1992, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) created the National Organic Program (NOP) and approved the Organic Label within its accompanying standards; however, this “organic seal” is applied mainly to agricultural foods and practices. It is often used on personal care products, although it primarily takes into account the practices of growing the ingredients for food, so it is not always suitable for personal care products that contain modified agricultural materials and multicomponent packaging. For example, the seal does not mean that the packaging of the skin care product is recyclable.


There was no recognized “organic” label for personal skin care products until May 2002. The USDA made it clear then in a policy statement about the NOP that manufacturers of nonfood products (such as personal care products) containing agricultural ingredients were eligible to seek certification under the NOP. This allowed producers of nonfood items to display the iconic round, green “USDA Organic” seal to attest to “authentic” organic claims on their labels. However, in April 2004, the USDA issued a surprising “Guidance Statement” reversing this position, indicating that producers of personal care products would not be eligible to seek certification and had to cease use of their green symbol. There was vacillation on this decision for many months until August 2005 when the Organic Consumers Association (OCA), representing more than 500,000 members, won a major victory in a lawsuit against the USDA again allowing nonfood products to be certified with the organic seal. This NOP Standard offers three different kinds of organic certification: If a product contains 100 percent organic ingredients, it can be labeled as 100 percent organic and use the seal on the front of the package; if a product contains 95 percent organic ingredients, it can be labeled as “organic” and use the seal on the front of the package; if a product contains between 70 and 94 percent organic ingredients, it can be labeled as “made with (name of) organic ingredient” and the seal may not be used on the package. The nonorganic ingredients in the remaining 5 to 30 percent must also be screened to ensure that they conform to organic food standards.


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