USDA reverses withdrawal of organic certification for cosmetics


WASHINGTON, DC, August 26, 2005 (ENS): Certified non-food products, including personal care products such as soaps, oils, and cosmetics may continue to represent that they are "organic" or "made with organic," ingredients, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) directed in a memo to organic certifiers Wednesday.

The non-food items may display the USDA organic seal, so long as such products are certified to meet the National Organic Program (NOP) standards for organic agricultural products, according to the memo issued by Barbara Robinson, deputy administrator for transportation and marketing programs for the U.S. Agricultural Marketing Service.

The memo comes just before the deadline requiring the National Organic Program to respond to a federal court complaint filed in June by the Organic Consumers Association (OCA), representing more than 500,000 members, and Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps/Dr. Bronner's & Sun Dog's Magic

The memo puts to rest the USDA's attempt earlier this year to prevent certified organic non-food products from accessing the NOP program and displaying the USDA organic seal. After that attempt Robinson wrote, the USDA received "numerous inquiries" about the removal of organic certification for non-food products.

Organizations and businesses that expressed opposition to the USDA's attempted change in policy include - the Organic Trade Association, California Certified Organic Farmers, Friends of the Earth, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, Bath & Body Works, and the American Herbal Products Association.

The withdrawal of access to organic certification for cosmetics and soaps would have reversed the USDA's longstanding policy that invites companies to certify non-food products to NOP standards and earn the USDA organic seal.

The OCA and Dr. Bronner's claimed that such a reversal would have destroyed good faith investments while depriving consumers of the ability to tell the difference between a mislabeled or misbranded "organic" personal care product from a bona fide NOP certified organic product. People with allergies to chemical ingredients in some non-organic products benefit from the organic labels.

"We are pleased that USDA has decided to follow the law and promote the interests of consumers by recognizing that certified organic producers are indeed able to access the NOP program and display the USDA organic seal," said Joe Sandler, the lead attorney handling the complaint.

Sandler says the complaint "will likely be withdrawn by OCA/Dr. Bronner's following settlement talks over the next 30 days."

"This is a major victory for organic consumers who rely on NOP certification to ensure that their personal care and other non-food consumable products like pet foods contain real organic ingredients free from unnecessary synthetic ingredients," said Ronnie Cummins, OCA founder and national director.

The complaint was part of OCA's Coming Clean Campaign for strong organic standards, which Cummins says drew thousands of consumers and hundreds of businesses,

David Bronner, president of Dr. Bronner's/Sun Dog that manufactures certified organic lotions, balms and soaps made with organic oils, says he and his team are "thrilled" to have played a part in retaining access to the NOP standards and label for certified non-food products.

"Thanks to USDA's wise decision, brands such as Dr. Bronner's & Sun Dog's Magic that support organic agriculture and farmers with all the integrity the National Organic Program intends, can continue to display the USDA organic seal," Bronner said.

Lynn Betz, founder and president of Sensibility Soaps that produces over 20 certified organic personal care products, applauded the decision. "I commend NOP Administrator Barbara Robinson and USDA's change of heart in regards to certifying personal care products under the National Organic Program. Supporting the integrity of certified organic claims in the marketplace is of immeasurable benefit to organic consumers, farmers and suppliers as well as organic personal care manufacturers."

Congresswoman Melissa Hart, a Pennsylvania Republican in whose district Sensibility Soaps is located, took up the cause of organic consumers and industry in Congress to ensure that access to the National Organic Program would be preserved for qualified non-food products.

In a letter Hart said, "In addition to business concerns it is important for consumers to see the USDA organic seal when selecting personal care products because many individuals who purchase organic products do so because they are allergic to certain processed ingredients that are often in non-organic products."

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2005. All Rights Reserved.

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