How Organic is “Organic”?

Are the products you’re buying really organic? While many opt nowadays for seemingly healthier organic products, ranging from food to cosmetics, discrepencies over products claiming to be organic remain. For food, there is a strict set of guidelines the product must meet in order to claim to be organic. However, for household cleaners, textiles, cosmetics and businesses (such as dry cleaners), the set of guidelines are much looser. For products that lack a seal or certification from the Department of Agriculture, consumers who prefer organic goods need to independently research what they are purchasing.

The Organic Trade Association report the most popular nonfood organic products include household cleaners, cosmetics, gardening products, clothing, sheets and mattresses. Despite the popularity of such products, the USDA does not regulate such items as they are not made entirely from food or agricultural products. Cosmetics and personal care companies, for example, have the ability to market  their products as organic with little oversight from the USDA, as long as the official USDA seal is not used.

The OTA is currently lobbying the FTC to investigate deceptive claims of organic, claiming the current lack of enforcement not only misleads consumers but may also hurt the confidence in the organic industry as a whole. A major challenge to the organic industry is the use of the words “organic” and “natural” by dry cleaning businesses. Because there is no legal definition of organic for the practice, many are able to use petroleum-based solutions which are generally not perceived as organic.

David Bronner, president of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, recommends consumers read labels carefully and look at ingredients listed. Furthermore, certain retailers maintain their own in house standard of organic products. Whole Foods, for example, announced strict labeling standard for the store’s cosmetics, home cleaning, and clothing products four years ago.


Read more here- “The Meaning of ‘Organic’ Hazy for Nonfood Items,” (Associated Press, Petosky News)

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Olivia is a graduate of Villanova University where she studied Economics and History, minoring in Gender and Women's Studies. She also has experience working with federal legislatures on health care policy, women's issues, and Internet safety.


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