The Organic Consumers Association today published a useful comparison by David Bronner, the pioneering natural soaps and personal care product-maker behind the Dr. Bronner's Magic Soup family of products.
In his comparison, he considers both U.S. and European standards, both those backed by government regulations or third-party not-for-profits, and those cooked up by others in the industry. Bronner has been involved in the Coming Clean Campaign, with the Organic Consumers Association, which includes both supporting public education and lawsuits against brands that -- they allege -- use misleading claims on their labels. The claims would lead consumers to believe the ingredients used in various lotions, soaps and other personal care products are less toxic and more environmentally benign than they are, according to the allegations.
Personal care products include cosmetics, shampoos and conditioners, toothpastes and mouthwashes, sunscreens, makeup and cosmetics, and soaps.
Here are Bronner's ratings, with text by The Daily Green:
USDA "Organic" - ***** (5 Stars)
When you see the word "organic" you know what it means. U.S. standards back it up. If the entire product is labeled USDA Organic it contains at least 95% organic ingredients, and any ingredients that aren't organic are included only because organic versions don't exist in a commercially viable quantity or quality. If the labels says "made with organic," it has at least 70% organic ingredients.
As Bronner writes, these products have "no synthetic preservatives or petrochemicals" and the statements on labels are backed up with "rigorously enforced compliance."
NSF ***+ (3.5 Stars)
NSF International, a U.S. not-for-profit, develops standards and certification for products. Its rating system is a "responsible compromise" between the makers and consumers of products and the cosmetics industry, according to Bronner. It allows a few synthetic preservatives that are identical to compounds found in nature, according to Bronner.
U.K. Soil Association "Organic" *** (3 Stars)
Like USDA Organic, the U.K. Soil Association certification requires a product contain 95% organic ingredients for labeling an entire product "organic," and 70% for any product labeled "made with orgnaic" ingredients. Bronner rates this standard lower, however, because it allows the use of synthetic petrochemical preservatives like phenoxyethanol. Only consumers in the U.K. are likely to see this label.
BDIH "Certified Natural Cosmetics" **+ (2.5 stars)
Found primarily in Germany and other European countries, the BDIH Certified Natural Cosmetics label prohibits the use of petrochemicals and restricts synthetic chemicals to those identical to compounds found in nature. It does allow sulfation and hydrogenation, which more strict standards prohibit.
Natural Products Association **+ (2.5 stars)
The Natural Products Association, a U.S. cosmetics industry group, set out to develop a standard that would cover the use of the word "natural," which is unregulated by the government. This certification is very similar to BDIH, or will be in 2010, when the full set of criteria is implemented.
Whole Foods Premium Standard ** (2 stars)
This U.S. standard, created by the Whole Foods retail chain, is adequate for people concerned only about avoiding the potentially toxic ingredients that Bronner calls "most problematic," but it requires no use of organic ingredients and allows the use of synthetic preservatives.
OASIS + (0.5 Star)
Created by the cosmetics industry, the OASIS seal allows the use of the word "organic" with only 85% of a product is organic, and allows the use of more synthetic preservatives. "OASIS is a greedy overreach of the mainstream cosmetic industry that wants to roll over basic organic consumer criteria," Bronner writes, noting that it is similar to the NSF standard, but erodes the meaning of the word "organic" by setting a different criteria than that used by the USDA. Because of that, he called it "highly misleading to organic consumers."
NaTrue + (0.5 Star)
Found only in Germany and other European nations, the NaTrue standard is "the most permissive standard," according to Bronner, because -- like OASIS, it doesn't adhere to the same high standards for labeling products "organic."
Ecocert (0 Stars)
Primarily found in France and other European nations, Ecocert is "both the most permissive and misleading standard" according to Bronner, because it is the only standard that allows the use of petrochemicals as both cleaning agents and as preservatives, and because it goes beyond even OASIS and NaTrue in allowing the use of the word "organic" on products that have as little as 10% organic content. He called the label "highly misleading."
To read more of Bronner's rating, see A 5-Star Comparison & Ranking of U.S. and European "Organic", "made with Organic", and "Natural" Personal Care Standards at the Organic Consumers Association Web site.
Enter your city or zip code to get your local temperature and air quality and find local green food and recycling resources near you.