FTC calls for guidance on what organic and natural mean to consumers

By Katie Bird

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Business Federal trade commission

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has proposed changes to its Green Guides, designed to help marketers avoid statements that could mislead their consumers, but is calling for more guidance on the consumer perception of natural and organic.

The most recent edition of the Green Guides was published in 1998 and the Commission said that due to the changing landscape and increasing use of ‘green’ claims, the ten year review process was accelerated by one year, starting in 2007.

After calling for extensive comments from representatives of the industry, consumer groups, academia and not for profit environmental organizations, the Commission has suggested some changes to the Guides, which are themselves open to public comment until December 10.

No definitions for natural and organic

Despite being called upon by various commenters to do so, the Commission has not suggested definitions for the term organic, when applied to non-agricultural products, and the word natural.

This is due to a lack of guidance on what these terms currently mean to consumers, the Commission said.

“It is unclear how consumers understand organic claims that describe non-agricultural products, and how marketers of those products substantiate their claims,”​ the report reads.

“The Commission, therefore, lacks a basis to provide guidance on the use of organic claims for products outside NOP’s jurisdiction, ​[which would include cosmetics products that have not applied for organic certification with the USDA].”

Comments on what guidance should be provided regarding the use of organic claims to describe non-agricultural products are therefore requested by the Commission before December 10.

Meaning of natural to consumers unclear

In addition, it has avoided defining the term natural, which is a claim increasingly used to describe cosmetics and beauty products and, like organic, has no legal meaning.

Similarly, the Commission stated that as there is little knowledge of what the term natural means to consumers, it is difficult to define it in a way that would help to reduce consumer deception.

Furthermore, as the term natural is used in so many different contexts, it said defining it or regulating its use would be challenging.

Nevertheless, the Commission does say that marketers must be able to substantiate the likely understanding of the claim.

“If reasonable consumers could interpret a natural claim as representing that a product contains no artificial ingredients, then the marketer must be able to substantiate that fact,”​ it said.

To consult the FTC’s proposed revisions of the Green Guides, and for details of how to make comments, please click here​.

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