The Happy USDA Organic Accident

USDA Organic certification of cosmetics products is the world’s most meaningful organic standard because it excludes the use of toxic chemicals that other organic standards allow. This did not come about because of superior American foresight and wisdom, but because of a big industry blunder.

When most national organic cosmetic standards were developed, stakeholders such as manufacturers, distributors and a few members of the public hash out what they consider to be allowed in the new standard. Since industry has all the money, they have the loudest voice. Large mass-market brands place a high priority on low cost, product performance and don’t worry about consumer long-term health. This is why Eco Cert allows the use of Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and other detergents in their cosmetics standard. European brands recognized that consumers would increasingly place a higher value on organic over time, so they bent it to satisfy their needs.

On the other hand, the American cosmetic industry had an enormously successful and long track record with their marketing so they dismissed the need to form an accommodating organic standard. Their reasoning may have been “Our marketing should always work, so why bother with forming an organic standard”. For the most part they were right, just look at the continuing success of “natural” cosmetics. Even today, most American consumers believe that natural is relatively chemical-free and ‘safe’ even though the ingredient panels are full of unpronounceable chemical names.

In the early 2000’s, small brands and interested parties petitioned the then USDA Organic food standard to expand the standard to include non-food agricultural products. And the USDA National Organic Program agreed, so long as they followed the food rules. Now, it’s called an ‘agricultural’ standard. To this day, USDA Organic body care and cosmetics products are certified organic as-if they were food.

And that is what we think organic body care and cosmetics should be – non-toxic chemical, food grade organic. But it was an accident. Had the American cosmetics and body care industries not miscalculated the future demand for chemical-free, they would have diminished the meaning of USDA Organic as their European counterparts did with Eco Cert.

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