WASHINGTON, 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 today.
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
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 certification.
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Statement was rescinded by then Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman.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The newest USDA policy mirrors the rescinded Guidance Statement,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," he said.
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?" she asks.
"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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