RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—When you think of fraud, scenarios involving Wall Street or those emails from people seeking money from Zimbabwe or some other faraway land probably come to mind. But another form of fraud is occurring in personal-care product aisles all over the country—taking advantage of consumers who think they're getting soap or cleansers that aren't as pure as they seem.
The next time you shop for soap, shampoo, lotion, or some other skin-absorbing personal-care product, scour the aisles carefully. Soap shopping shouldn't take so much legwork. But because the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) doesn't crack down on uncertified organic claims in personal-care products the way it does in its tightly regulated certified-organic food products, labels that promise green and healthy products need closer scrutiny. The good news: The situation may soon improve.
THE DETAILS: The National Organic Standards Board, an official body that recommends policy for the USDA's National Organic Program, just drafted its "Solving the Problem of Mislabeled Organic Personal Care" report, and will likely vote on its recommendations in November. It won’t force the USDA to start requiring third-party certification to USDA organic standards, but according to Alexis Baden-Mayer, political director of the Organic Consumers Association (OCA), it will lay down some “very heavy pressure on USDA to act.”
Currently, if a personal-care product bears the USDA Organic seal, its ingredients are 95 percent organic, and producers can't put anything in it that they couldn't put in food. "In a body-care product, that other 5 percent would probably be something neutral like clay or glycerin, something that can't be grown agriculturally, but not something dangerous," explains Baden-Mayer. But there's nothing stopping companies who don't follow that standard from claiming organic status. Her organization posts a list on its website of companies that currently use the word "organic" in their brand name but don’t actually certify the claim through a third party, or don't in fact use many organic ingredients in their products. These companies also often combine organic ingredients with dangerous ones linked to pollution and health problems. On its website, OCA is asking consumers to boycott these items and support personal-care products that display the USDA Organic logo.