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Organic Consumers Association

Whole Foods Imposes One-Year Deadline on Brands to Drop Bogus Organic Claims

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Organic Consumers Association (OCA), the nation's largest consumer group dedicated to organic integrity, is pleased the nation's largest natural products retailer Whole Foods Market is taking action to address widespread organic labeling fraud in personal care. Such brands as Avalon Organics, Nature's Gate and Giovanni, make organic claims on products whose main cleansing and moisturizing ingredients are generally made without any organic material whatsoever and are usually composed in significant part from petrochemicals. Whole Foods staff should be commended for taking such a bold meaningful step on behalf of organic integrity for their customers. The new standard announced by Whole Foods is a milestone achievement for OCA campaigners who recently began escalating tactics with boycotts of organic cheaters, protests at trade shows and forging strong alliances with groups such as Consumers Union.

"In the wake of the BP oil spill, Whole Foods' announcement couldn't come at a better time. Now more than ever, Americans are searching for alternatives to petro-chemicals, including in the bodycare aisle," says Ronnie Cummins co-founder and Executive Director of OCA. "The new Whole Foods policy is a major victory for people who want to stop washing petrochemical formulations all over their bodies and then down the drain. These consumers want trusted options for real organic personal care. Whole Foods policy will force major organic cheater brands to drop organic claims from their branding and labeling."

The new Whole Foods Market policy on "organic" labeling personal care products states: "We believe that the "organic" claim used on personal care products should have very similar meaning to the "organic" claim used on food products, which is currently regulated by the USDA's National Organic Program. Our shoppers do not expect the definition of "organic" to change substantially between the food and the non-food aisles of our stores."

Whole Foods new policy mandates that "Organic Product" or "Product made with Organic [specified ingredients]" claims must be certified under the USDA National Organic Program, just like food. A more limited "Contains Organic Ingredients" claim for personal care may be certified under the NSF ANSI 305 standard, which has additional allowances for personal care products. All organic claims which are not certified, including "Organics" in branding must otherwise be dropped. Brands have been told they have until August 1, 2010 to explain how they will change their labeling or formulations to comply with the new standard. Those that don't submit an explanation are expected to be dropped from store shelves over the coming year while those that comply will have until June 1, 2011 to be in full compliance with Whole Foods new policy.

Other major natural product retailers such as Trader Joe's and the National Co-Op Grocers Association (representing over 100 natural product retailers in the US) now have a choice in the face of Whole Foods' new policy. Will these other natural products' stores follow Whole Foods lead and require truthful labels, or will they choose to enable organic fraud with the old status quo? With two labeling options, natural stores must make a choice and can no longer duck responsibility and profit from organic cheater brands ripping off their customers. OCA will send a letter to all of these stores asking for a formal response by August 1st, whether they will join Whole Foods in demanding that organic fraud cease in their stores by June 1, 2011. OCA will then publish each stores' response so consumers can see whether their preferred natural products store chooses to stand up for organic integrity or not. To see letter go to http://www.organicconsumers.org/bodycare/index.cfm

"What a relief for people ridding themselves of petrochemical products, that they can shop at least one chain without worry they will be ripped off with petrochemical formulations masquerading as organic products," says Cummins. "Trader Joe's, NCGA and all other natural products stores need to get with the program and follow this market leader's example."

Mr. Cummins published an Op-Ed today in the Huffington Post entitled "The Oil Spill in the Bathroom." OCA also submitted a letter to the USDA National Organic Program, following up the formal Complaint OCA submitted in January against organic cheaters, informing NOP that all the relevant organic groups in the US, including OCA, OTA, Consumers Union, Cornucopia and Whole Foods, have weighed in that NOP needs to regulate personal care. See http://www.organicconsumers.org/

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