Seal, Seal, Who’s Got the Seal?

Have you ever stopped to look at how many “organic” certification seals there are on “organic” food products? I just took a bunch of things out of my cupboard and when I placed them all out on my counter, I counted 11 different seals on 17 products: USDA, CCOF, QAI, OTCO, ICS, SGS, WSDA, TDA, CDA, GOCA, and EcoCert. Some had the USDA and the certifier seal, some had just one or the other. Question? Is the organic “seal” the important thing to the consumer? I don’t think so.

So, at a recent conference when multiple presenters bemoaned that cosmetic “consumers will be confused by all the different organic and natural standard seals” I just had to shake my head in amazement. The market is growing at 20% to 25% per year (for food, more for cosmetics) and clearly, it can’t be because of the multiplicity of seals, maybe in spite of all those seals?

In the days when the country was collectively writing and commenting on what became the “USDA Organic” regulation, there was a REALLY big fight; the 40 odd certifiers in business here in the U.S. (we won’t even include the rest of the world) all wanted to continue to require the use of their own “seal” on products they certified. The USDA wanted only the USDA-NOP seal allowed. The final compromise was that you could use either one or both seals – your certifier seal, the USDA seal or both seals. This was an opinion that came from certifiers, not from consumers.

The USDA oversees the credibility of American agricultural products. In the case of the National Organic Program (the NOP) the meaning of the USDA Organic seal is intended to communicate that there is a single standard, one that means the same thing from Bangor to San Diego.

The fact is most people have a fuzzy idea of how certification works. I probably explain once a week that if you are getting certified to the USDA-NOP, you are being certified to a Federal LAW by an accredited private agency, also known as an Accredited Certification Agent (ACA). You are NOT certified to CCOF or Oregon Tilth or QAI – they certify you to the USDA-NOP regulation. To my mind it would be better if the food world only used the USDA seal, then they would be sending a unified message.

Back to the issue of “new” seals on organic cosmetics: if a few more certification agencies pop up in our part of the world (body care), I think it is okay. It really can’t get any more confusing than it already is in the food world. There are 98 ACAs in the US, all of them pushing their respective seals on products. A few more that are specific to cosmetics probably really won’t change the landscape all that much. Meanwhile, we work to collectively decide what “organic” means on a “cosmetic” or personal care product. This has worked for the 40-year history of the organic food standards and I don’t think it will hurt “organic” cosmetic standards to take a similar path.

Happy Saturday – Gay

Copyright, G. Timmons – June 7, 2008

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s