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Daily News Archive
From June 3, 2005

USDA Prohibits Body Care Products From Carrying Organic Seal
(Beyond Pesticides, June 3, 2005)
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced that it will not allow the use of its green “USDA Organic” label on personal-care products, including soaps, lotions and cosmetics. Some manufacturers, discontent with the announcement, threaten rebellion.

“We don't have any standards for personal care or cosmetic products,” Barbara Robinson, deputy administrator for the USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service told the Washington Post. “There is nothing in the law that contemplates extending this to personal-care and cosmetic products. Those commodities are under the jurisdiction of the Food and Drug Administration.”

The announcement has outraged some manufacturers, who said it amounts to a reversal in policy that will harm their businesses. One such company, Dr. Bronner's soap company, makers of organic lotions, lip balms and body balms, annouced its intention to continue to label its products "certified organic" in accordance with the USDA National Organic Program (NOP) rules and to display the USDA seal. Although USDA has informally indicated that it now believes personal care products cannot be so labeled, that position "represents a clear reversal of USDA's prior policy and cannot be lawfully enforced," stated company president David Bronner. "We want to reassure consumers, retailers and distributors that Dr. Bronner's and Sun Dog's Magic certified organic products can and will continue to be sold and can and will continue to display the appropriate USDA labeling and seal."

Some consumers with allergies or particularly sensitive skin are also concerned. “If you're not able to put it [the label] on the product, it's hard to differentiate a product that has a few token organic ingredients from one that meets the national organic standards,”said Craig Minowa, of the Organic Consumers Association.

The "USDA Organic" label originally made its way into supermarkets in the Fall of 2002, and has gained popularity since. Products bearing the label meet the requirements of the Final National Organic Program Rule, the national standards for the production, handling and processing of organically grown food in the U.S. These rules, which replaced state and local standards, were released in December 2000, but took nearly two years to reach the marketplace.

USDA released a proposed its original organic rule October 1998, but it was met with much criticism and sparked an unprecedented 325,603 public comments. USDA proposed allowing bioengineered crops, sewage sludge, and irridation, which became known as the “big three,” under the definition of organic. Many changes, including removal of the "big three" were made to the final rule.

Under the current standards, products bearing the "USDA Organic" label must contain 95-100% organic ingredients. Any remaining product ingredients must consist of nonagricultural substances approved on the National List or non-organically produced agricultural products that are not commercially available in organic form.

If a product is 100% organic, it may be labelled as such. Processed products that contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients can use the phrase "made with organic ingredients" and list up to three of the organic ingredients or food groups on the principal display panel. For example, soup made with at least 70 percent organic ingredients and only organic vegetables may be labeled either "soup made with organic peas, potatoes, and carrots," or "soup made with organic vegetables."

While the battle over labeling body care products continues, consumers will have to carefully read their labels.