Truth or Fiction?
National Organic Standards
By Jayne Ollin

hen I step up to the personal care section of my local grocery and I see an item labeled "organic," my first impulse is to buy it over the non-organic product. My second impulse is to justify the higher price, believing that item to be the healthier choice for myself, and my family.

This is the general mindset of many consumers. To be concerned about health has become a trend that many consider a worthy expense. As testimony to this trend are the huge corporate chains of 'natural' foods stores sweeping the country. In response to American's desire to live a cleaner, healthier life, to discriminate between synthetic and natural, huge manufacturing companies have flooded the market with "organic" and "natural" products.

Is it the least bit ironic that many of these giant manufacturers have begun incorporating the term "organic" into their company names and their marketing ploys? It seems to make sense, strictly from a business point of view, that this trend has attracted the attention of corporate giants whose compasses detect an opportunity to increase profits through exploitation of that simple little word.

Never before has the term organic racked up so many consumer dollars. We as a society continue to shop with the impulse to buy healthier products from a market we blindly trust, and we have inadvertently supported the growth of a huge body of manufacturers whose first priority is not our health, but their profit margin, which would be adversely affected by the upcoming regulations on the use of the term organic.

In October of 2002, manufacturers will be expected to comply with the National Organic Standards Program (NOSP), or take the word 'organic' off their label. Under current policy guidelines set forth by the USDA and the National Organic Program (NOP), manufacturers wishing to use the term organic must comply with the current standards, which can be found on the USDA's NOP website.

However, many large health and beauty aid manufacturers (HABA) have begun lobbying the USDA in an effort to convince officials that personal care products cannot be made without the use of synthetic additives, or that botanical preparations or herbal essential oils cannot be extracted without the use of toxic solvents such as hexane or petrol. In a nutshell, HABA manufacturers who have incurred significant gains in the past few years through exploitation of the term organic are now funneling millions of consumer dollars into a campaign to convince the USDA that body care products (organic or otherwise) cannot be made without synthetic chemicals, before the October deadline.

This attempt to lower the standards is not compelled by the science of botanical formulation, but by greed for the dollar that can be had off the terminology. Manufacturers wishing to use the term organic without freeing their products of synthetics and toxins would have us believe that true organic is simply impossible, and that body care products cannot be produced without chemical stabilizers, emulsifiers, surfactants, toxic solvents and a multitude of other inorganic compounds and "inert" ingredients.

Corporate manufacturers are also lobbying for exemption from standard organic processing regulations that prohibit organic products to be made in the same facility as chemical products. This would open the door to all manner of contamination; a worst-case scenario, should they succeed, would be the processing of a non-toxic insect formula, claiming to a pure botanical product being mixed and packaged in the same facility as a product containing DEET or other hazardous pesticides.

The Organic Standards that these companies are aggressively lobbying to have weakened would not only license them to falsely label their products for the sole purpose of profiting from the term, it would place many customers in serious danger, since many inert ingredients and traces of toxic substances will become undisclosed ingredients in the thousands of products that could be legally labeled organic.

Chemical Allergies, Consumer Protection, and Product Liability

Chemical sensitivity is a growing problem for many people. The rising incidence of chemical sensitivity-of acute and chronic reactions to everyday chemicals-is directly associated to the sea of synthetic ingredients flooding the marketplace. Consequently, an accelerated number of people are experiencing serious health problems as a result of bioaccumulation of "acceptable" trace levels of synthetic pollutants.

Our environment, our soil, our waterways, as well as our bodies, have reached dangerous saturation levels. As an agency commissioned to protect the consumer, the USDA has set strict standards, which it expects manufacturers to comply with. These standards would require much-needed disclosure, which would not only serve the customer, but would also protect the manufacturer, the distributor and the storeowner from liability suits and outrageous insurance premiums.

The current NOP standards are worth defending to the last letter. If a manufacturer cannot meet them then they have no business profiting from deceptive labeling at the expense of the consumers health. However, unless the NOP hears from, you-the consumer, the chemically sensitive, the practitioner, the manufacturer, the small store owner-these standards will be corrupted in October of this year.

The side-effects will not only be a rise in the cases of allergic reactions to inert ingredients, but a rise in lawsuits as manufacturers become less discriminating leading to a dramatic increase in product liability insurance. Many mom-and-pop stores, small manufacturers, and suppliers could go out of business. Those companies who have adhered to the standard for purity up to this point, and gone the extra mile to offer a truly pure product will no longer be able to compete under degraded standards, as their revenues are gradually usurped by flashy products on sale again for just a little less.

Suggested Readings:

Your Organic Kitchen: The Essential Guide to Selecting and Cooking Organic Foods

By Jesse Ziff Cool

The Organic Foods Sourcebook

By Elaine Marie Lipson

Organic Living: Simple Solutions for a Better Life

By Lynda Brown

Organic Living in 10 Simple Lessons

By Karen Sullivan