Don't Miss Out

Subscribe to OCA's News & Alerts.

Organic Consumers Association

Campaigning for health, justice, sustainability, peace, and democracy
Save Organic Standards campaign banner image

The Meaning of 'Organic' Hazy for Nonfood Items

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's All About Organics page and our Safeguard Organic Standards page.

WASHINGTON - There's a strict set of standards for organic foods. But the rules are looser for household cleaners, textiles, cosmetics and the organic dry cleaners down the street.

Wander through the grocery store and check out the shelves where some detergents, hand lotions and clothing proclaim organic bona fides.

Absent an Agriculture Department seal or certification, there are few ways to tell if those organic claims are bogus.

A shopper's only recourse is to do his or her own research.

"The consumer should not need a law degree to read a label," says Laura Batcha, president of the Organic Trade Association, the industry's main trade group. Concerned about the image of organics, the association is pressuring the government to better investigate organic claims on nonfood items.

___

FROM SOAP TO T-SHIRTS

According to the Organic Trade Association, sales of those nonfood organic products were about $2.8 billion last year, a small share of the overall organic market but growing rapidly. Among the most popular items: household cleaners, cosmetics, gardening products, clothing, sheets and mattresses.

USDA doesn't regulate any of those items, though, unless they're made entirely from food or agriculture products overseen by its National Organic Program. That's when they can carry the familiar "USDA organic" seal or other official USDA certification.

The rules are murkier when the items have ingredients that aren't regulated by USDA, like chemicals in soaps or makeup. The department doesn't police the use of the word organic for nonfood items, as it does with food.

Some examples:

-Personal care products. Companies can brand any personal care product as organic with little USDA oversight as long as they don't use the USDA organic seal or certification. Some retailers like Whole Foods Market have stepped in with their own standards requiring organic body care items sold at their stores to be certified. There's also a private certification called NSF/ANSI 305, but most consumers don't know to look for that label.   
Pre-order Ronnie's New Book, Coming February 11

Get Local

Find News and Action for your state:
20% Off Mercola's Organic Whey Protein Powder and 20% Goes to Organic Consumers Association.