In a Growth Market, Regulations for Organics Have Barely Taken RootBy DON OLDENBURG
Washington Post Staff Writer
Inside the new Washington Convention Center, the Natural Products Expo East trade show is underway with 1,700 companies exhibiting thousands of food, pharmaceutical, personal-care and cleaning products. All of them are billed as natural; many are labeled organic.
Outside on a street corner, Diana Kaye leads a demonstration demanding truth in the labeling of organic products. It has attracted a small crowd on this September day.
Protesters wear sandwich-board shampoo bottles accusing three major manufacturers of fudging their organic ingredients. One bottle alleges 100 Percent Organic Fraud, another Lavender Flavored Tap Water for Misled Sham-poo Consumers.
At the microphone, Kaye announces she´s going to prove how good organic can be. She glazes a seven-grain muffin with lemon body oil made from the certified-organic ingredients used in all her Terressentials brand body-care products, made at her farm in Middletown, Md.
She takes a big bite.
Hmmm. Delicious! she says.
Kaye doesn´t recommend eating body-care products. But swallowing this one was the most definitive act she could imagine to demonstrate her side in a bitter industry donnybrook over the definition of a word whose marketplace clout is rapidly growing.
As drugstores and supermarkets increasingly stock the kinds of shampoos, lotions, moisturizer creams and body oils that only health food stores once carried, she and a vocal group of self-described purists and consumer advocates argue that, by any meaningful definition, many of those products just aren´t organic.
What´s organic? Broadly speaking, everything derived from living organisms. Got carbon? It´s organic. But in the row over defining the meaning in foods and other products, it´s defined—to one degree or another—as made of ingredients that are farmed without synthetic fertilizers, pesticides or fungicides and manufactured into products without synthetic additives and preservatives. The tempest in the organic shampoo bottle right now is largely over degrees of organic.
Saved, and Sickened, by Chemicals
Diana Kaye and Jim Hahn, her life and business partner, aren´t natural rabble-rousers. Fifteen years ago, they were like other young workaholic professionals in Washington. She was an interior designer; he was an architect. They met and fell in love working together at a Dupont Circle architectural firm.
Back then, life at their Adams Morgan apartment was quintessential ´80s yuppiedom. They bicycled to work, exercised at a health spa and washed down One-a-Days with bottled water. Breakfast was granola; dinner chicken and broccoli, food that´s good for you. They looked like a Family Circle profile for the healthier lifestyle.
We thought we were healthy, says Kaye, 44.
Kaye got sick in 1988. A biopsy showed she had an unusually aggressive non-Hodgkin´s lymphoma, which put her in intensive care in less than a month. A huge tumor crowded her lungs and heart.
It was like chemo, chemo, chemo, Kaye says of the weekly regimen of double-dose intravenous cocktails she endured at the National Institutes of Health.
Nobody knows what exactly causes non-Hodgkin´s lymphoma, but medical researchers believe it can be environmentally induced. Kaye blames her cancer on her father´s use of DDT inside the house and out when she was growing up on a farm in Pennsylvania. The insecticide was banned in the United States in 1973 as a possible carcinogen, when Kaye was 14. After a year of chemo, the cancer gave up, but severe side effects persisted. At a loss, her doctors scribbled more prescriptions for two more years. Kaye thinks chemotherapy wrecked her immune system and that the drugs she took for side effects had their own side effects, requiring more drugs that caused more side effects—a cycle of stomach pain, nausea, fevers, rashes, migraine headaches and painful joints.
I was taking dozens of pills at a time. I had a row of pill bottles this long, says Kaye, holding her hands at arm´s length.