Whole Foods Cracks Down on Organic Personal Care Products

Whole Foods Market Storefront

Under the new guideline, all products making an organic product claim, such as “organic body lotion,” must be certified to the USDA NOP standard of at least 95 percent certified organic products, the same standard used for organic foods. Photo: Whole Foods Market

In response to the onslaught of organic personal care products on the market, Whole Foods Market has recently announced that to be sold in its stores all personal care products making “organic” claims must be third-party certified.

“There is no regulatory authority over personal care products that is enforcing organic claims right now,” says Joe Dickson, quality standards coordinator for Whole Foods Market. “So, it’s really buyer-beware out there.”

While some personal care products making organic claims are certified to the USDA NOP standard, many are not, and the USDA has no authority to regulate personal care products that are labeled “organic” but not certified.

In other words, the manufacturer of a can of tomato soup labeled “organic” is subject to Federal enforcement if their product isn’t certified or contains non-organic ingredients. A conditioner bottle with the same label is not required to be USDA certified, and there are no regulatory standards that require the manufacturer to use only organic ingredients.

Under the new guideline, all products making an organic product claim, such as “organic body lotion,” must be certified to the USDA NOP standard of at least 95 percent certified organic products, the same standard used for organic foods.

Any organic ingredient listed on the back of the bottle must also meet the NOP organic standard.

Products claiming to be “made with organic ingredients” must meet the NOP standard for Made with Organic, which requires 70 percent organic products and strictly regulates what makes up the remaining 30 percent.

“The issue for us is that consumers can be misled regarding what they’re getting,” says Dickson. “People see the word ‘organic’ on a product in the food aisle, and they expect the product to be made almost entirely from a system of agriculture they support. When you see ‘organic’ on a shampoo bottle the same should be the case.”

Products making a “contains organic ingredients” claim, such as “contains organic jojoba extract,” must meet the recently released American National Standards Institute’s NSF 305 Standard for Personal Care Products (NSF/ANSI 305).

“The maker of an organic food product can petition the USDA to use a specific synthetic ingredient, like baking soda, that is synthetic but safe and can be used in very small amounts,” says Dickson. “The USDA does not allow personal care manufacturers to petition new ingredients.”

In response, NSF created a standard very similar to the NOP standard that allows certain ingredients that are safe and specific to personal care.

“We wanted to wait to make sure that there was a solution that would work for personal care manufacturers to get certified before enforcing these guidelines,” says Dickson.

In order to give suppliers time to reformulate or re-label products, the new guideline does not go into effect on the shelves until June 1, 2011, but Whole Foods expects suppliers making an “organic” claim to submit a plan for compliance by August 1.

“The reality is that this policy may lead to a short-term reduction of products that are making ‘organic’ claims,” Dickson says. “But our belief is that, by giving more substance to the term ‘organic’ in personal care, over the longer term we’ll see better faith in that term, and ultimately more growth and strength in that category.”

Don’t live near a Whole Foods? Don’t fret. Dickson suggests choosing personal care products bearing the USDA or NSF certified organic seal to ensure you’re really getting what you pay for.

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Mary Mazzoni

Mary is a lifelong vegetarian and enjoys outdoor activities like hiking, biking and relaxing in the park. When she’s not outside, she’s probably watching baseball. She is a former assistant editor for Earth911.
Mary Mazzoni