Magic Soaps sues ri­vals for abus­ing or­ganic la­bel, ‘mis­lead­ing’ con­sumers

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Jen­nifer Harper

Even grungy hip­pies once swore by Dr. Bron­ner’s Magic Soaps, with its heady pep­per­mint fra­grance and an­gel­i­cally pure or­ganic for­mula.

Now Dr. Bron­ner’s is get­ting down and dirty.

The San Fran­cisco-based com­pany, which has been man­u­fac­tur­ing veg­etable-oil-based soaps and washes since 1948, is su­ing chichi up­starts that are in­fring­ing on its ter­ri­tory.

“We have been deeply dis­ap­pointed and frus­trated by com­pa­nies in the ‘nat­u­ral’ per­sonal care space who have been [cheat­ing] or­ganic con­sumers, en­gag­ing in mis­lead­ing or­ganic brand­ing and la­bel call-outs on prod­ucts that were not nat­u­ral in the first place, let alone or­ganic,” said David Bron­ner, pres­i­dent of the com­pany.

Estee Lauder and Kiss My Face, plus de­signer Stella McCart­ney are among 13 man­u­fac­tur­ers named in a 50-page law­suit filed in Cal­i­for­nia Su­pe­rior Court April 28. Dr. Bron­ner’s used an in­de­pen­dent chem­i­cal anal­y­sis to back claims that ri­vals sul­lied of­ten pricey prod­ucts with all sorts of in­dus­trial stuff.

With names like “Peace­ful Patchouli Ob­ses­sively Or­ganic Ul­tra Mois­tur­izer,” the brands are evoca­tive. The analy­ses found that for­mu­las in­cluded the car­cino­genic petro­chem­i­cal eth­yl­ene ox­ide, plus com­pounds such as co­cami­do­propyl be­taine, ethyl­hexyl­glyc­erin and phe­noxyethanol.

“The mis­lead­ing or­ganic noise cre­ated by cul­prit com­pa­nies’ brand­ing and la­bel­ing prac­tices in­ter­feres with or­ganic con­sumers’ abil­ity to dis­tin­guish per­sonal care prod­ucts whose main in­gre­di­ents are in fact made with cer­ti­fied or­ganic, not con­ven­tional or petro­chem­i­cal ma­te­rial,” Mr. Bron­ner said.

While the or­ganic quo­tient of agri­cul­tural food prod­ucts is reg­u­lated by the U.S. De­part­ment of Agri­cul­ture, per­sonal care items rely on in­dus­try polic­ing, such as the newly es­tab­lished Or­ganic and Sus­tain­able In­dus­try Stan­dards de­vel­oped by a con­sor­tium of 30 man­u­fac­tur­ers, in­clud­ing L’Oreal and Estee Lauder.

Julie Ber­man, a spokes­woman for Estee Lauder, said April 28 that the com­pany had no com­ment on the law­suit.

The mar­ket­place al­ready is chock­ablock with or­ganic Oreo cook­ies, dog food and bam­boo-fiber un­der­wear. The imag­i­na­tive al­lure of all things or­ganic is big busi­ness.

Ac­cord­ing to the Or­ganic Trade As­so­ci­a­tion, Amer­i­cans spent $18 bil­lion on or­ganic foods last year and an ad­di­tional $938 mil­lion on or­ganic “non-food prod­ucts,” such as vi­ta­mins, cloth­ing and clean­ers. Sales of or­ganic prod­ucts have grown by 15 per­cent to 21 per­cent each year since 1997, and 57 per­cent of Amer­i­cans buy or­ganic at least part of the time.

There’s or­ganic abuse out there, ac­cord­ing to the Or­ganic Con­sumers As­so­ci­a­tion, which launched a “Com­ing Clean” ad­vo­cacy cam­paign in March to urge man­u­fac­tur­ers to back up their or­ganic claims to pro­tect con­sumers — and the na­tion.

Us­ing pe­tro­leum com­pounds in a self-pro­claimed nat­u­ral prod­uct is “out­ra­geous,” said Ron­nie Cum­mins, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Min­nesota-based non­profit group.

“At a time when our na­tion is dan­ger­ously de­pen­dent on for­eign oil and at­tempt­ing to wean it­self off un­nec­es­sary de­pen­dence on pe­tro­leum-based in­gre­di­ents in ma­jor con­sumer prod­ucts for na­tional se­cu­rity rea­sons, it’s self-de­feat­ing that we are lit­er­ally bathing our­selves and our chil­dren in toxic pe­tro­leum com­pounds,” Mr. Cum­mins said.

Mr. Bron­ner, mean­while, is de­mand­ing that the of­fend­ing “or­ganic cheater” man­u­fac­tur­ers ei­ther drop their claims of mak­ing gen­uine or­ganic prod­ucts or re­vamp their for­mu­las by Sept. 1.

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