How close are we to global harmonisation of organic and natural standards?

By Katie Bird

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Natural beauty summit, Quality assurance international, Organic food

Before the industry can benefit from global natural and organic standards, both Europe and the US must first come to a consensus within their own markets, which is proving to be a complex undertaking.

The Natural Beauty Summit, held in Paris last week, witnessed the first concrete steps towards European harmonisation with the presentation of the proposed standards. A lively panel discussion followed, highlighting the number of issues that remain to be solved.

One natural standard, one organic standard

A result of over four years of discussion between some of the largest European certification bodies, the proposed standards cover both natural and organic cosmetics.

The idea behind the harmonisation is that the current certification bodies operating in Europe, such as Soil Association and Ecocert, will begin certifying to the same standards.

This will simplify the market for consumers and also mean that manufacturers only have to choose between competing certifiers and not competing standards.

However, the proposed harmonised standards are by no means the only ones on the market. Julie Tyrrell was also at the Summit to present the NaTrue standard.

NaTrue’s launch was announced at last year’s Natural Beauty Summit. Originally developed as a lobby group to represent the interests of the natural industry, NaTrue moved into the world of standards in January at the request of consumers exasperated by the lack of natural certification, according to Tyrrell.

Those involved in the creation of NaTrue had been active in the harmonisation process but had broken away, frustrated by the lack of progress, she added.

NaTrue’s standard is now available to companies and Tyrrell expects products to appear on the market with the NaTrue label early next year.

Too many competing standards

A question from the floor however highlighted the core problem that still remains unsolved: we still have competing standards.

Tyrrell did not reveal how NaTrue would react to the new harmonised standard, highlighting only how its creation was the result of frustration in the face of slow progress.

NaTrue’s motto ‘one world, one label’ may appear redundant when its standard comes into competition with the new harmonised standards.

US market has similar problems

Competing standards are by no means the reserve of the European market. Joe Smillie, from the NSF, sketched a very similar picture when talking about the US market.

The NSF has created ‘a made with’ standard. According to Smillie, this complements rather than competes with the USDA’s organic standard, which is strict and calls for 95 percent of the ingredients to be organic.

In parallel to the European situation, he noted the breakaway of a number of players who were not in agreement with the compromise made by the NSF, who went on to create the OASIS standards.

Throughout his presentation he argued that harmonisation was inevitable and would probably involve government set standards, but that the industry must influence this process and it must occur sooner rather than later.

Industry must unite to move forward

According to Smillie, the time has definitely come for the industry to ‘unite and change the personal care world’.

“Let’s calm down on the infighting and provide a cohesive standard for everyone to win,”​ he said.

These thoughts were echoed by another comment from the floor, saying that the morning’s discussion had highlighted not only the serious need for harmonisation but also the divisions that still existed within the industry.

It seems that in the case of harmonised standards, although important steps are being taken, and progress is being made, the road is still long.

Related topics: Market Trends

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