Daily News Archive
From August 30, 2005

In Reversal Of Decision, USDA To Allow 'Organic' Label On Cosmetics
(Beyond Pesticides, August 30, 2005)
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has reversed its decision to yank the "USDA Organic" seal from lotions and lip balms and will allow cosmetics to carry the round, green label. The decision came last week in response to a lawsuit filed by the Escondido, California based company Dr. Bronner's Magic Soap along with the Organic Consumers Association.

Having the USDA imprimatur is essential for a product to stand out on store shelves crowded with allegedly organic merchandise, said David Bronner, president of Dr. Bronner's Magic Soap. "It's really the only way to distinguish ourselves from the rampant, misleading claims" of others, said Mr. Bronner.

The USDA created the label in 2002 to identify food that is free of pesticides, antibiotics and other chemicals. Meat and milk products certified as organic must come from animals raised on organic feed and given access to the outdoors. They may not be injected with growth hormones or antibiotics.

Some makers of cosmetics and other products that use natural ingredients sought the USDA's seal of approval, and the department said it would oblige them before deciding in April that it should stick solely with regulating food (See Daily News). On August 23, a day away from a deadline to respond to the manufacturers' lawsuit, the USDA reversed its position.

The challenge to adequately regulate cosmetics under the new laws has proved to be daunting, said Barbara Robinson, head of the department's National Organic Program. "We do food," Ms. Robinson said. "We don't do cosmetics here. We're not lipstick. We're not mouthwash. We're not lawn care products. It takes a while to sit down and look at this and say, 'All right, how do we make this work?' "

USDA officials determined that it didn't matter what type of product was labeled as long as it followed the rules. "What difference does it make if you brush your teeth with it or eat it?" Ms. Robinson said.

Dietary supplements and pet food also can be certified as organic under the decision. Organic standards for fish are also being created by the department.

Without the USDA requirements, there would be anarchy in product labeling, said Craig Minowa, an environmental scientist for the Minnesota-based Organic Consumers Association. "There are a number of industries making millions annually by making misleading claims," Mr. Minowa said, often by adding trace amounts of organic materials to traditional chemical compounds. "Now, consumers can look for the USDA seal and know the product met tough standards."

TAKE ACTION: Start looking out for the USDA organic label when you buy cosmetic products. Read the Environmental Working Group’s “Skin Deep” report to learn about potential hazardous ingredients commonly found in many cosmetics and personal care products. To get involved and learn more about the campaign for safe cosmetics, visit http://www.safecosmetics.org/