Organic Consumers Association

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Organic Beauty Products Claims Challenged

A handful of personal care companies are looking to the U.S. government to clarify regulations for organic labeling and advertising claims.

Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps, Intelligent Nutrients, Organic Essence and the Organic Consumers Association filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Organic Program on Jan. 14 against 13 personal care companies they alleged have made false organic claims on their products.

Companies named in the complaint include some of the better-known natural beauty brands, specifically Hain Celestial Group's Jasön Pure Natural and Organic and Avalon Organics brands; Kiss My Face Corp.; Levlad LLC's Nature's Gate Organics; YSL Beauté Inc.'s Stella McCartney Care 100% Organic Active Ingredients, and Organic Wear, made by Physicians' Formula Holdings.

The complaint specifically went after products that have the word "organic" in their product name but which don't use a single certified organic product in their formulation, said Alexis Baden-Mayer, political director for the Organic Consumers Association.

A spokeswoman for Hain Celestial said the company does not comment on ongoing litigation and declined to comment on the recent complaint, but she said the company does feel there should be a personal care-specific organic standard. The company believes the USDA should govern the certification of organic personal care and cosmetics products because it is the only agency equipped to handle national regulations, the spokeswoman said.

A spokeswoman for the Stella McCartney brand said the company had not received a complaint from the USDA, and that the "skin care product line is currently not available for sale in the U.S. and was discontinued at the end of 2008."

The other companies named in the complaint did not return calls seeking comment.

According to the complaint, using the word "organic" on a personal care product implies that the main ingredient of that product is organic. Without proper regulation of those ingredients, using the term can create a false impression with consumers. A simple statement of policy from the USDA would resolve the problem, Baden-Mayer said.

"All kinds of conventional products are being marketed as organic, and no one is watching what's going into those products," Baden-Mayer said. "Consumers need to believe that the organic standard is trustworthy. This fraud will degrade consumer perception of organic in general."

For companies competing in the organic marketplace, the integrity of the term is an important business issue.

"We're on the shelf competing with all this 'organic' noise," said David Bronner, president of Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps. "We're being harmed. Any true organic firm is. And the consumer is being misled." 
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