DC, June 14, 2005 (ENS): A consumers group
and an organic soap company are suing the U.S. Department
of Agriculture (USDA) to keep access to the National
Organic Program for qualifying non-food products.
The Organic Consumers Association and Dr. Bronner's
Magic Soaps / Dr. Bronner's & Sun Dog's Magic, makers
of certified organic food grade lotions, lip balms and
body balms, jointly filed the lawsuit in federal court
The complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for
the District of Columbia seeks a court order to stop
a new USDA policy that attempts to ban any labeling
or marketing of products that are certified to comply
with the National Organic Program (NOP) standards.
The new policy will go into effect on October 21, unless
the court rules in favor of the plaintiffs.
"It is our responsibility to fight the USDA's
illegal policy which discourages organic farming, wipes
out millions of dollars in investment in certified organic
non-food products and violates basic rule making procedures
in the Administrative Procedures Act," says Ronnie
Cummins, founder and national director of the Organic
In a foundational May 2002 Policy Statement on the
scope of the National Organic Program, the USDA made
clear that producers of non-food products such as personal
care containing agricultural ingredients "are eligible
to seek certification under the NOP."
Based on this "Policy Statement," Dr. Bronner's
and other producers of body care products and other
non-food products such as pet foods invested in sourcing
and formulating with NOP certified organic ingredients.
They sought and obtained certification under the NOP,
which allowed them to label and market their products
as certified "organic" or "made with
organic" under the NOP and use the organic seal.
Certifying agencies understood the Policy Statement
to authorize such certification.
In April 2004, the USDA issued a Guidance Statement
reversing this position and indicating that producers
of personal care products would not be eligible to seek
A month later due to consumer and industry outcry,
that Guidance Statement was rescinded by then Secretary
of Agriculture Ann Veneman.
But last month, the USDA issued an informal "response"
to a statement of the National Organic Standards Board
and, in that response, indicated again that personal
care products are not eligible to be labeled in accordance
with the National Organic Program.
The newest USDA policy mirrors the rescinded Guidance
Statement, and contradicts the foundational 2002 USDA
policy that formally invited body care companies to
invest in certifying National Organic Program qualified
products, the lawsuit claims.
David Bronner, president of Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps,
said, "Having issued a policy statement intended
to have a binding effect, on which Dr. Bronner's and
other companies justifiably relied, NOP cannot suddenly,
without notice or opportunity for comment, adopt a new
policy and purport to make it enforceable against producers
of personal care products."
"We have been advised that, under well established
principles under the Administrative Procedure Act, to
adopt such a change in its previously established policy,
USDA is required to proceed by notice and comment rulemaking,"
Lynn Betz, co-founder and president of Sensibility
Soaps, Inc. said, "As a certified processor under
the USDA NOP since July 2003, our company developed
21 personal care products, which were certified "organic"
by PA Certified Organic using the current NOP food standards."
"Since the scope of the NOP included personal
care products, and products carrying the seal were legitimately
certified, why should these products now be excluded?"
"Organic olive oil does not become magically non-organic
when used in a lotion instead of a salad dressing,"
said Bronner. "Consumers and retailers want personal
care that is nothing less than organic food for the
skin. High quality certified organic body care products
like ours should be distinguishable from low-quality
so-called "organic" personal care that is
based on standard conventional synthetic ingredients."
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