The announcement comes in response to a complaint from the Organic Consumer Association's (OCA) complaint regarding cosmetic companies claims for product lines that were claimed to be largely organic.
"The US Department of Agriculture (Department) has not asserted jurisdiction over the ultimate labeling of personal care products… Accordingly, the allegations regarding the ultimate labeling of personal care products are dismissed as moot," the government body said in a letter addressed to the OCA dated 9 March.
At issue are hydrosol water extracts, the water byproduct of steam distillation of plant material for essential oils, the OCA claims. In order to make individual body care products appear to have a much higher percentage of organic ingredients, several cosmetic companies have been using hydrosols to count the ordinary water from steam as 'organic.'
Organic consumers and companies claim this is problematic, given that recent research commissioned by the OCA by Rutgers University have verified that the majority of hydrosols is ordinary water from steam, not the plant.
Hydrosols were briefly marketed to food companies for uses in sauces and soups to enable inflated organic labeling claims before OCA filed the formal complaint, but ceased after the complaint was filed. Since then, no food company has actually purchased hydrosol water extracts for the sake of inflating organic labeling claims, unlike personal care companies, the OCA says.
"We're pleased that the filing of the complaint stopped food companies from counting ordinary water as an organic ingredient," said Craig Minowa, an environmental scientist with the OCA. "However, the USDA's refusal to address this same issue in body care products leaves a regulatory vacuum in that problematic sector."
The OCA says it will assist personal care companies to identify and source functional organic ingredients. An exploratory meeting was held recently with body care companies at the Expo West show in Anaheim, California, regarding cooperative organic ingredient sourcing and information sharing.