I recently read an article on the subject of organic body products that really piqued my interest. The article’s take home message was to urge consumers to purchase organic body products that bear the USDA label. The author of this article described the USDA’s regulations as safe, uniform, and a symbol of trust.

I had a difficult time reconciling this with the veritable tidal wave of contradictory information with respect to the true “organic” nature of the USDA’s concept of exactly what organic means. Most recently I signed a petition against the proposal made by the USDA to enlist (38) new nonorganic ingredients under the guise of their organic seal (http://www.democracyinaction.org/dia/organizationsORG/oca/campaign.jsp?_key=11401.)

Many people are still reeling over the proposal for genetically engineered foods to be allowed, or the campaign launched by the Organic Consumers Association (OCA), a national consumer watchdog organization, to pressure the USDA into retracting the idea of allowing the use of some pesticides, growth hormones, antibiotics, and other drugs into our organic food supply. In order to satisfy the demands of big business, American families pay the heavy price of nutritional vacuity. So, should we as consumers and citizens trust big business and government oversight bodies that claim to have our best interests and health in mind with every decision they make? Absolutely not.

I cannot help but make some sort of comparison between automotive “Lemon Laws” and government oversight of organic standards. If a state legislature was to expand the list of allowable defects and deteriorated condition to the point that one could purchase a totally demolished vehicle tagged and advertised as in “like new” condition, one could be in a similar situation when standing in a local supermarket with produce labeled by the USDA as “organic” without instant vigilance.

On October 21, 2002, the National Organic Program regulations became fully implemented by the USDA as the uniform standard of production and handling of organic agricultural products in the United States. The use of synthetic substances in or on processed products, which contain a minimum of 95% organic content, are eligible to bear the USDA seal. The USDA has stated that organic certification for body care products, when done by a USDA accredited agent, must follow the requirements in the existing rule (7CFR Part 205, the National Organic Program; Final Rule- as amended) to be labeled as organic. (www.ams.usda.gov)

The main reason why people must be hyper-vigilant about any effort by the government to label anything is the simple fact that special interest groups from the corporate sector and industry at every corner heavily lobby them. With so many hands and dollars in the mix, any decisions the USDA (or the FDA for that matter) makes must be analyzed and examined with great scrutiny.

There are number of certifying bodies to choose from, for example:

  • USDA organic (95%-100% organic)
  • Australian Certified Organic (95%-100% organic)
  • European Union/Agriculture Biologique (95%)
  • Bio/Germany (at least 90% organic)
  • QAI (70%)
  • CAAQ/Canada (70%)
  • EcoCert (10%)
  • Some other organizations:
  • Oregon Organic Tilth; CCOF claiming to be the very first organization to perform organic certification in 1973 in North America; Marin Organic Certifying Agency; Demeter Certified Biodynamic; and the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) to name a few.

As consumers, and even more so in this context here as practitioners using products all day, every day on ourselves and our clients, it is extremely important to know exactly the nature of the products we are employing in practice. To do this, we must become acutely aware of the ingredients in our products and be fully aware of what a label of “organic” may mean. What is the concept of “organic” and its very definition as defined by and with respect to the certifying body? What exactly then, to even a lesser degree, do the terms “natural” and “fresh” mean as they are plastered all over the label?

Recent testing by an independent third party laboratory have found levels of the chemical 1,4-dioxane in many body products sold by companies that position themselves as “cleaner” and “safer”. In their defense, unless they claim to be 100% organic, their finished product could have some levels of chemicals that could be traced back to some of the ingredients sourced that were not organic. Further, some companies could be selling the healthiest, safest, cleanest product they can produce, with the best intentions and good faith they could still find themselves with their products contaminated with some level of chemical residues by the very fact that the water used in the production of the product, the finished product itself, or the water used in the irrigation of the carefully grown organic ingredients is, in most cases, loaded with chemicals, prescription drugs, and hormones.

It comes down to this: one can reasonably expect to have a higher degree of safety and superior quality product when it is sold to you by a company that is using organic ingredients in their product. The degree to which the product approaches truly 100% organic is dependent upon the ingredient sourcing, the certifying body, and its philosophy and history. (The full report on the 1, 4-dioxane can be viewed in its’ entirety at www.organicconsumers.org/bodycare/dioxane results08.cfm)
Some things to look for and avoid:

  • No synthetic and/or petrochemicals
  • Propylene glycol (PG) and butylenes glycol
  • Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sodium
  • Laureth sulfate
  • PEG 4-200
  • Sodium hydroxide
  • DMDU and urea
  • Parabens, alcohol, mineral oil
  • FD&C colors, fragrances (seek fragrance free)
  • Benzene

Some simple hints:

The first few ingredients listed comprise the bulk of the product, the last few make up very little of the product. Therefore if one is looking for a lavender lotion and lavender is the last ingredient you can be sure the amount of lavender is negligible at best.

Seek out organic farming websites like the Northeast Organic Farming Association (www.NOFA.org) for information that can be trusted with respect to responsible and sustainable farming and related issues. Other websites like the Organic Consumers association (www.organicconsumers.org) are filled with extensive, reliable, legitimate, information, news, facts and figures, and current research not to mention often extensive blogs where one can network with like-minded people and find all kinds of interesting information.

Call body care companies and request a complete source list for their ingredients.

If the USDA seal is important to you, urge companies you patronage to become compliant in these standards. Even more importantly, petition the USDA to make sure the label of certification actually means something. Truly organic products cannot be genetically engineered, irradiated, pesticide, antibiotic, hormone contaminated products. That by definition and on its face makes it a contradiction in terms. The USDA has to be true to the nature and spirit of what exactly the term organic means and respect that. The enormous efforts made by generations of organic farmers cannot and should not be compromised. Good people that live and breathe organic farming with deep love and respect for nature have been employing these ideas and techniques long before agribusiness, niche marketing, and the government ever cared or noticed.

With consumers purchasing of organic products growing at a greater percentage of the market every year, many are trying to ride the wave all the way to the bank. These companies, individuals, and government agencies should therefore be wisely held in suspect. Carefully examine their motivations, who supports them, and who they affiliate themselves with.

Lastly, as a practitioner, consumer, and citizen you have a great influence over the buying power, production and handling of products. Exercise your rights and seek the truth about what you are buying. Your dollar is a powerful leverage tool. Every time you purchase something, you are voting. Your dollar is your vote. With every purchase, you are supporting everything and everybody that went into the production and sale of that product. Insist on the most sanitary and safe conditions, meaningful organic standards, and thorough inspection of organic companies to make sure they are being honest.

It is truly your right, your health, and your future on the line. Your support of sustainable, organic, agriculture makes the future a better place to live in.

Barbara Sanchez-Reichert is the CEO of Alterra Wellness, Inc., an alternative thinking wellness center specializing in a variety of body therapies and organic and cruelty-free products, and dedicated to optimizing mobility and stress free living. Barbara can be reached at 201-567-4343 or through www.alterrawellness.com.