USDA crackdown on misuse of ‘organic’ not imminent, say standards holders

By Katie Bird

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Personal care National organic program Organic certification

US organic standards holders are not expecting an imminent USDA crackdown on the misuse of the term ‘organic’ in the cosmetics and personal care sector.

The National Organic Standards Board - a government appointed panel that attempts to find consensus within the organic community to inform regulatory decisions – recently called on the USDA to get tough on the misuse of the word organic in the personal care sector.

Although the Organic Consumers Association believes action may be imminent, organic standards holders, Oasis and NSF, do not agree.

If the USDA’s National Organic Program were to crack down on the misuse of the word, theoretically only USDA-certified organic products would be allowed to use the term and private standards would be pushed out of the marketplace.

However, neither Oasis nor NSF expects change to be imminent.

Joe Smillie, senior vice president of Quality Assurance International which certifies to the NSF standard, and a member of the NOSB, explained that in this case the board's decision has no force of law.

“This ​[the NOSB’s vote] is a call to arms but they have no statutory authority when it comes to cracking down on the word organic. So, technically, in a regulatory sense, it means nothing to standard holders right now.”

However, if the USDA were to act upon it would affect the products certified under the NSF’s ‘contains organic’ standard.

When asked if change was imminent, Smillie said he didn’t think so, although he did concede that with the new management of the NOP and the NOP proclaimed ‘age of enforcement’, it was possible.

A crackdown on the misuse of the term is essential, according to Smillie, but this does not necessarily have to come from the USDA.

“Fake organic personal care products cut across three jurisdictions – the federal trade commission (FTC) as this is a mislabelling issue, the USDA and the FDA. Any of these three or a combination thereof should take action,”​ he said.

Following the food sector

For Gay Timmons, who is on the founding board of directors of the Oasis organic standard, the evolution in the personal care and cosmetics sector is likely to follow that of the food industry, and may take the same 40 years as it did in food to reach uniformity.

According to Timmons, a number of technical issues need to be cleared up before the NOP’s standard is truly applicable to personal care and cosmetics, including the definition of synthetic and the list of synthetic ingredients allowed in products.

In addition, she told CosmeticsDesign that the NOSB has sent the NOP a number of recommendations that remain unresolved and it is unclear where personal care will fall in the priority list.

The new deputy administrator of the NOP Miles McEvoy stated that personal care and cosmetics is not a top ten priority, which Timmons takes as a message to the industry to move forward with private standards which may eventually help future NOP efforts to write a personal care specific standard.

“Mile’s clear message that personal care is not a priority represents the position of the Department of Agriculture, and …is a message to us to make some progress instead of waiting for the wheels to grind their slow path,”​ she said.

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