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Organic and Natural: Caveat Emptor
By: David C. Steinberg, Steinberg & Associates
Posted: April 1, 2009, from the April 2009 issue of Cosmetics & Toiletries.
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Reasons for interest in this system included:
- Increased cost and uncertain availability of energy and chemicals; Increased resistance of weeds and insects to pesticides;
- Decline in soil productivity from erosion and accompanying loss of organic matter and plant nutrients;
- Pollution of surface waters with agricultural chemicals and sediment;
- Destruction of wildlife, bees and beneficial insects by pesticides;
- Hazards to human and animal health from pesticides and feed additives;
- Detrimental effects of agricultural chemicals on food quality;
- Depletion of finite reserves of concentrated plant nutrients (e.g., phosphate rock); and
- Decrease in numbers of farms, particularly family-type farms, and disappearance of localized and direct marketing systems.5
By the late 1980s, a number of private and state-run certifying bodies were operating in the United States. Standards varied among these entities, causing trouble in commerce. Certifiers often refused to recognize products certified as organic by other agents, which was a problem particularly for organic livestock producers seeking feed, and for processors trying to source ingredients. In addition, a number of well-publicized incidents of fraud began to undermine the credibility of the organic industry.
In an effort to curb these problems, the organic community pursued federal legislation. The result was the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990, which mandated the creation of the National Organic Program (NOP) and the passage of uniform organic standards. These standards were incorporated into NOP regulations.6 Implementation of the regulations began on April 21, 2001, and all organic certifiers, producers, processors and handlers were required to be in full compliance by Oct. 21, 2002.7
Beyond federal legislation, the California Organic Products Act (COPA) was signed into law in 2003, and beginning Jan. 1, 2003, all products sold in California containing a total of less than 70% organic ingredients were no longer allowed to use the word organic on the front labeling panel. Later in 2003, the State Assembly repealed the non-food provision of the COPA but in the end, cosmetics remained a part of the Act.
With the growth of nationwide food stores based on certified organic foods, interest in the organic market has spread to cosmetics and other personal care products. From this interest, several groups have emerged with varying standards for organic certification; most use a seal that appears on product labels to indicate organic certification. Following are some of the major bodies, as well as their requirements. This is not a comprehensive list but it will provide an overview.