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What Does Organic Mean?

What does “Organic” mean?

That depends. In a general sense, it refers to living things produced in a natural environment without the aid of man-made synthetics. In the US, a food product called “organic” legally must contain at least 95% organic ingredients, not counting added water and salt. A non-food product that is not USDA certified organic, such as a body care product, has no such legal requirements. It can contain just about anything, including chemical preservatives, fragrance oils, detergents and other synthetic ingredients.

What does “USDA Organic” mean?

It means that the product must conform to the USDA Organic food standard—a US federal law—the strictest organic standard in the world. When you see the USDA Organic seal, it’s essentially a guarantee that a product contains no synthetic ingredients. Funny, isn’t it, that you hardly ever see the USDA seal on so-called “organic” body care products? Bottom line: if it doesn’t have the seal, it ain’t the real deal. Simple as that.

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So, if a product claims to be 95% Organic, that’s the same as USDA Organic, right?

Actually, no. First, they’re probably counting the tap water in the product as part of that 95%, which is illegal under the USDA National Organic Program. Second, you can bet that the remaining 5% contains synthetic preservatives and other chemicals. That also would be illegal in a USDA Organic product.

That’s shocking! Would it be fair to assume that a product that’s called “100% Organic” is truly organic?

You’d think so, but–no. For example, here are some ingredients found in a product that’s described as “100% Organic”: sodium cocoyl glutamate, oleamidopropyl betaine, polyglyceryl-4 caprate, coco-glucoside, glyceryl oleate...these ingredients are in no way organic. Caveat emptor: buyer beware.

What about organic body care products in health food stores and natural supermarkets—they’re subject to some sort of regulation, aren’t they?

Not at all. Check out this statement from Utne Reader:

Many products sold as “natural” or “organic” are virtually identical to the chemical [products] you can buy at any drugstore. “We are talking about nothing short of rampant labeling fraud,” says Ronnie Cummins, the national director of the Organic Consumers Association.

Unfortunately, because the government has failed to step in and enforce the federal organic law, the marketplace has been flooded with synthetic chemical personal care products that are masquerading as organic. Some companies even go so far as to use the word “organic” in their company names and use the phrase “certified organic” on their packages. This is just plain wrong.

So, you’re saying that when a company has “organic” or “organics” in their name, that doesn’t mean their products are certified organic?

That’s right—it doesn’t mean anything. It’s just a word printed on a bottle.

To guarantee that you’re getting a genuine certified organic product, look for the USDA seal. Remember: if it doesn’t have the seal, it ain’t the real deal.™



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