We would like to thank James Hahn and Diana Kaye of Terressentials, producers and marketers of body care products, for alerting the Truth in Labeling Campaign to the fact that manufacturers have flooded the shelves of "healthy" and "organic" stores with bottles brazenly labeled "organic," yet made with synthetic chemicals. Following is a copy of the release they sent us.
Subj: Fake "Organic"
Date: 4/21/2003 5:40:46 PM Pacific Daylight Time
For Immediate Release
April 14, 2003
Industry Wants to Redefine "Organic" as Largely Synthetic, Insiders Claim
Most consumers think that the USDA's new regulations governing the use of the word "organic" apply to personal care products. They don't. Manufacturers, on the other hand, well aware of this misunderstanding, have recognized it as a golden opportunity for the exploitation of the rapidly growing demand for "organic" products. They have flooded the shelves of "healthy" and "organic" stores with bottles brazenly labeled "organic," yet made with synthetic chemicals. Why? Because they can.
To make matters worse, some of these manufacturers, in their advertising, promote themselves as protectors of organic standards, claiming to be obsessive in their pursuit of "organic," while selling you synthetic detergents, toxic preservatives and all manner of manmade chemicals in their concoctions. Respected organizations such as organic certifier Oregon Tilth and the Organic Consumers' Association (www.organicconsumers.org /bodycare/index.htm) have spoken out very strongly against these manufacturers.
What is "organic?" To consumers, it means free from all synthetic chemicals, be they pesticides, herbicides, preservatives, artificial fragrances and colors, man-made substances from A to Z -- in other words, totally natural. What is "natural?" Contrary to the way it's used by corporate marketers, the dictionary defines it as something that exists in nature without human intervention. The USDA agrees, and has defined the word synthetic as follows: "formulated or manufactured by a chemical process or by a process that chemically changes a substance extracted from naturally occurring plant, animal, or mineral sources, except that such term shall not apply to substances created by naturally occurring biological processes." With few exceptions, synthetics are strictly prohibited in regulated products labeled as "organic." Yet they abound in "organic" body care products.
Some manufacturers are worried that they might eventually be held to task for their errant ways. Because of this, competing manufacturers have joined forces behind the scenes to construct a set of extremely lax "standards" to offer to the USDA for their official rubber stamp -- soon. Yet the current set of organic standards as approved for foods, according to James Hahn and Diana Kaye, cofounders of organic body care maker Terressentials, is adequate for the creation of a wide range of personal care products. Kaye stated, "We have proven this to be well within the realm of possibility even for a small company with limited resources."
Consumers who rejected sewage sludge, irradiation and GMOs for inclusion in organic food regulations might be shocked to learn that personal care product manufacturers are pushing for synthetic chemicals such as sodium lauryl sulfate, methyl paraben, fatty acids, cyclomethicones and hundreds of other synthetics to be counted as permissible in their proposed "organic" personal care standards.
It is essential that standards for products that may penetrate the skin be made at least as strong as those for organic foods -- certainly not weaker. Science has shown that personal care chemicals enter the body through the epidermis, hair follicles and nasal passages, and are not broken down and detoxified by the digestive system as foods are. For children, this issue is of critical importance.
As members of the industry group that is drafting the proposed standards for body care, Hahn and Kaye say they have been appalled to find their company the lone voice urging that synthetic chemicals be prohibited from products called "organic." They say they are also deeply disturbed that the opinions of consumers have been kept out of the watertight loop between industry and the government. The office of the USDA's National knowledge about product formulation, are at the mercy of industry's chemists for information and explanations. Kaye said, "from our vantage point on the inside, we can tell you that spokesmen for the coalition of manufacturers are very skilled at making industrial chemical ingredients and processes appear simple and even 'natural.' This situation is the ultimate example of the fox guarding the henhouse."
Kaye and Hahn call the sophistication of the trickery used by manufacturers "breathtaking." The most common trick used to make chemical products appear natural is to blend synthetics with a mixture of water and infinitesimal amounts of many different plant extracts, which are then listed first on the label as infusions or hydrosols, giving the impression that the products are predominantly botanical in origin -- yet these products are either totally clear or bright white. "When you make a cup of herb tea, is it ever clear? Of course not, because it's got real herbs in it. Imagine how little actual plant material you'd use to make clear tea -- awfully close to none at all," said Hahn.
Organic guidelines are for agricultural products -- not for electronic components, not for pharmaceuticals, and not for products that are primarily chemical synthetics. The term "organic" simply does not apply to products such as these. Kaye asked, "Doesn’t it seem unethical to try to force these products into the organic category?"
What should consumers do? Be skeptical of advertising hype, even if it says "certified organic" or specifies a percentage of organic ingredients -- usually, it's mostly "organic" water. Does the manufacturer list all of their ingredients on their web site? If not, ask yourself why not. Scrutinize every personal care product's ingredients panel as if you were going to drink it. Don't be distracted by long lists of infused herbs -- look for chemical names of the active ingredients that make up the bulk of the product: words that look like something you'd never find growing in a garden. If you see the phrase "derived from," that's a sure sign of a synthetic oleochemical. When you demand that your favorite natural products store switch from faux organic body care products to those that ban synthetics, tell them about the one company that's fighting to keep organic truly organic. Let your opinion be known to the USDA's offices of the National Organic Program (firstname.lastname@example.org, 202 720-3252).
Authors James Hahn and Diana Kaye are the founders of Terressentials, makers of true organic and chemical-free body care products.
CONTACT: Diana Kaye, 301 371-7333
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