Whole Foods: Time for in­tegrity in ‘or­ganic’ per­sonal care items

Be­gin­ning next June, re­tailer to hold prod­ucts to same USDA stan­dards ap­plied to food­stuffs


Cit­ing con­fu­sion in the mar­ket­place, Whole Foods Mar­ket Inc. is crack­ing down on or­ganic stan­dards for per­sonal care prod­ucts.

Nu­mer­ous prod­ucts such as soaps and sham­poos tout them­selves as be­ing “or­ganic” or made with or­ganic ma­te­ri­als — but those claims aren’t reg­u­lated by the govern­ment, as is done with food.

And be­cause there’s no reg­u­la­tion, “you’ll see an or­ganic sham­poo that may have a very small per­cent­age of or­ganic in­gre­di­ents, or one or­ganic in­gre­di­ent,” said Joe Dick­son, Whole Foods’ food, or­ganic and en­vi­ron­men­tal qual­ity stan­dards co­or­di­na­tor.

“Or in a few cases, not nec­es­sar­ily in prod­ucts we’ve been sell­ing … we’ve seen or­ganic claims be­ing made with no or­ganic in­gre­di­ents iden­ti­fied on a prod­uct, which is ob­vi­ously de­cep­tive,” Dick­son said.

Start­ing next June, Whole Foods will re­quire that its sup­pli­ers of per­sonal care prod­ucts mak­ing or­ganic claims meet the same U.S. Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture stan­dards as food does. That means prod­ucts billed as “or­ganic” must be made with more than 95 per­cent or­ganic in­gre­di­ents. Those prod­ucts ad­ver­tised as be­ing made with or­ganic in­gre­di­ents must have at least 70 per­cent or­ganic in­gre­di­ents.

The move will boost con­sumer con­fi­dence in

or­ganic la­bel­ing, Dick­son said, while giv­ing credit to com­pa­nies that al­ready make au­then­ti­cally or­ganic prod­ucts.

“For the core or­ganic shop- per, what you put on is just as im­por­tant as what you put in,” he said.

Some com­pa­nies, frus­trated with poseur com­peti­tors, are happy with the changes.

One Whole Foods sup­plier, Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, is rec­og­nized as a leader in the or­ganic per­sonal care prod­uct field. To ac­com­plish that, the com­pany has in­vested “sub­stan­tially” in its sup­ply chains, said David Bronner, pres­i­dent of the Es­con­dido, Calif.-based Dr. Bronner’s.

But “we’re on a shelf with prod­ucts that are mak­ing even stronger or­ganic claims than we are, that are not based in or­ganic ma­te­ri­als in any of their ma­jor in­gre­di­ents,” Bronner said.

Whole Foods has the clout within the in­dus­try to lead a change, he said. The chain “rep­re­sents such a sig­nif­i­cant amount of ev­ery­one’s busi­ness, you’re not go­ing to have two dif­fer­ent la­bels in the mar­ket,” he said. “It’s go­ing to more or less cre­ate a de facto reg­u­lated mar­ket.”

Diana Kaye and her hus­band sell or­ganic body prod­ucts on­line and out of some smaller stores na­tion­wide. But their Ter­ressen­tials prod­ucts aren’t car­ried in Whole Foods, and Kaye said she’d like to see the stan­dards en­acted more quickly, to give op­er­a­tions like hers a foot in the door.

Many com­pa­nies have been un­eth­i­cal in mar­ket­ing them­selves as or­ganic, said Kaye, who is based in Mary­land.

“They have ex­ploited the con­sumers’ trust, and they have re­ally de­graded the word ‘or­ganic’ in the mar­ket­place,” she said.

In the past, Whole Foods led the charge for or­ganic food stan­dards. And Dick­son him­self serves on the USDA’s Na­tional Or­ganic Stan­dards Board, which ad­vises the depart­ment on which sub­stances should be al­lowed in or­ganic pro­duc­tion and han­dling.

But there is un­cer­tainty over which govern­ment body might reg­u­late or­ganic claims for per­sonal care prod­ucts. The stan­dards board rec­om­mended last fall that the USDA should reg­u­late those claims — a po­si­tion that Whole Foods sup­ports, Dick­son said.

“Un­til some­thing hap­pens and we can just de­fer to the govern­ment, like we do with food, we have to sort of pinch­hit and reg­u­late it our­selves,” he said.

Dick­son said the re­cep­tion from sup­pli­ers has been over­whelm­ingly pos­i­tive, but he ac­knowl­edged that some would pre­fer to keep the sta­tus quo.

“I think there’s a feel­ing out there that our de­ci­sion will be a pretty big cat­a­lyst to drive pos­i­tive change in the in­dus­try,” he said. “A lot of man­u­fac­tur­ers who want to do good, this will give them a frame­work in which to ramp up the in­tegrity of their la­bel.”

Ri­cardo B. Brazz­iell

Whole Foods em­ployee Hibis­cus Rozuk helps Ana Stephen and her daugh­ter Nyla, 5, with their shop­ping on Wed­nes­day. By June of next year, Whole Foods shop­pers should be able to have even greater con­fi­dence that per­sonal care prod­ucts la­beled ‘or­ganic’ re­ally are.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.