In August 2005, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) extended its policy statement to include organic claims on personal healthcare products that have met the organic standards of formulation and manufacturing laid down by the National Organics Program (NOP), a division of the USDA. While this came as great news to personal healthcare manufacturers, it also created a great deal of confusion and controversy.
The Food and Drugs Administration does not define or regulate the term "organic" as it applies to cosmetics, body care, or personal care products. As a result, both manufacturers and consumers are confused as to what qualifies the "organic" label on personal healthcare products. There are private interpretations for the "organic" label on personal healthcare products and as a result, third party organic certifications can be obtained. But without any qualifying standards, an "organic" claim on a personal healthcare product may mean little or nothing.
Getting Organic on Soap
In April 2008, the NOP released a news bulletin clarifying the USDA standards for organic certification of cosmetics, body care products and personal care products. The USDA is responsible for all "organic" claims on food products, but is currently not enforcing the same standards on personal healthcare products labeled "organic" as it does on organic foods and dietary supplements.
The issue with soap is one of the major controversies. Some view that the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) does not allow soap manufacturers to put any organic claims either "organic" or "made with organic ingredients" on soap products. They believe that any soap product that claims to be "organic" is violating the OFPA. The NOP differs with this viewpoint and has drafted a document that supports the interpretation of the OFPA to allow organic certification and labeling of soap products formulated and manufactured in conformity to the regulations laid down by the NOP.
In July 2009 the NOP addressed the soap issue and a guideline has been drafted to be used by certifying agents accredited by the USDA, to certify and label soap products (made in accordance with NOP regulations) as "organic" or "made with organic ingredients". Whether the Food and Drugs Administration will agree with these guidelines is yet to be seen. NOP regulations describe a consistent, uniform policy for the formulation and manufacturing of a finished product, without specifying the finished product. This allows a wide variety of products to be labeled "organic" or "made with organic ingredients" regardless of the end use of the product. Therefore, based on true organic component content, a soap product may be eligible, under USDA, for "made with organic ingredients" certification if, for example, a product is made from 75 percent organic ingredients and 25 percent allowed synthetic ingredients.
The Need for a Complete Policy on Personal Healthcare Products
Many in the industry argue that federal standards for organic certification should be weaker than those set for foods. Others believe that regardless of whether a product is to be ingested or topically applied, both have the potential to cause equally hazardous side effects, and therefore an organics certification standard that can be applied across the board for both food and personal healthcare products should be in effect.
One of the major tasks the NOP has on hand is to set guidelines and develop clear policies for organic claims of personal healthcare products and propose these to the Food and Drugs Administration. The need is to develop a complete federal government policy for personal healthcare products. Many manufacturers are of the opinion that the clear regulations the NOP has outlined for organic foods and nutritional supplements should be adopted for personal healthcare products as well.
Should soap that is formulated with certified organic oils and materials be labeled as "organic" or "made with organic ingredients"?
Many soap manufacturers concur with the NOP's interpretation of the OFPA and see the need for a more regulatory policy on organic certification for personal healthcare products. The implementation of these policies will, in the long run, boost the high quality standards of the term "organic" or "made with organic ingredients" label claims for personal healthcare products. Consumers will be able to recognize organic components in the product as well as synthetic ingredients in all products whether they are to be ingested or topically applied. Industry experts predict that these changes, when formalized by the Food and Drugs Administration, will boost the credibility of the personal healthcare industry and result in greater consumer trust and higher growth prospects.