No Growth Blues for Greens

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This morning the TABS Group, a U.S. based consumer analysis firm announced a study finding that there was little or no growth in “organic” personal care product sales in the U.S.. Recently Organic Monitor, out of the UK, announced that double digit growth in “organic” personal care continues in European markets.

What is up with that?

I think it has to do with certification. In the EU over 60% of the products making organic and natural claims are certified. The Europeans have used various standards for many years. BDIH, a natural standard, has been around since 1951, certifying “natural” since 1996. Soil Association and EcoCert both put out organic and natural standards in the early 2000s. The Europeans are not allowed by law to certify cosmetics to a agricultural standard so they use private standards. As a result:
Manufacturers get educated through the certification process
– They educate their consumers
– Consumers can look up the standards on line and hold someone accountable
– Retailers know they are getting a product that has been vetted by a third party
– Organic farmers continue to be supported
– Sustainable production is increasing as a result of this work

Man, I hate it when the Europeans are ahead of us.

On our side of the pond, things are a mess. Yep, you read it, a mess. “Organic” cosmetic companies are not getting certified nor are they compelled or encouraged to get certified. Why?

– A litigious party brought a law suit and made many people paranoid that they might be sued too. So they just keep doing what they are doing hoping that no one will notice them.
– Whole Foods made their own “list” which they call a “standard” but there is no third party certification, just people saying they meet it. So, what is that all about? It has nothing to do w/ organic!
– OCA (who only ever prints half of any story, because if you knew the full story they wouldn’t be able to scare you into making a contribution), has done their level best to support the use of the organic food laws to certify synthetics!! Why? I wonder if it is because of who they get money from?
– No one seems to remember the 90s, when we all bought privately certified food products because we were working out what processed organic food was. It took 12 years! Cosmetics needs the same thing.
– Finally; why would anyone use a food law to certify cosmetic chemicals? Why?

Another opinion, although one supported by consumer research; people buy products that work, they want “performance”. So the challenge to the “organic” cosmetic industry is to make products that perform AND that are made from organic materials. In order to do this, we have to use organic raw materials, like coconut and palm oil and react them in similar ways to conventional products, using environmentally safe processes and technologies. This will make “organic” ingredients that perform (under a separate standard). Again, the EU is far ahead on this path.

What can you do? Write the National Organic Program Director, miles.mcevoy@ams.usda.gov and tell him you don’t want the USDA to regulate personal care products until private standards have been developed enough to give us the ingredients and standards that are appropriate for personal care. Twisting the organic food regulation in order to certify synthesized chemicals is simply hurting the organic food community. Further more, it s a statement by a very few that consumers are not smart enough to tell the difference between a food standard and a cosmetic standard. Consumers are smart enough and they deserve respect and certified products that work. Not some lousy “shampoo” that you have to follow with a lemon juice rise so that you don’t completely destroy your hair. Yes, it will take a couple years but the Europeans are already providing the model for good and functional standards that will, eventually, vastly increase the market for organic raw materials. Time for a few people to check their egos at the door and do what is right to promote more organic agriculture in a time when our planet desperately needs it.

Copyright G. Timmons 12/14/09

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