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Organic and Natural: Caveat Emptor
By: David C. Steinberg, Steinberg & Associates
Posted: January 25, 2010, from the February 2010 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.
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In 1980, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) published its “Report and Recommendations on Organic Farming,”3 in which organic farming was described as a “production system that avoids or largely excludes the use of synthetically compounded fertilizers, pesticides, growth regulators and livestock feed additives. To the maximum extent feasible, organic farming systems rely upon crop rotations, crop residues, animal manures, legumes, green manures, off-farm organic wastes, mechanical cultivation, mineral-bearing rocks and aspects of biological pest control to maintain soil productivity and tilth, to supply plant nutrients and to control insects, weeds and other pests.”4
Reasons for interest in this system included:
- Increased cost and uncertain availability of energy and chemicals; Increased resistance of weeds and insects to pesticides;
- Decline in soil productivity from erosion and accompanying loss of organic matter and plant nutrients;
- Pollution of surface waters with agricultural chemicals and sediment;
- Destruction of wildlife, bees and beneficial insects by pesticides;
- Hazards to human and animal health from pesticides and feed additives;
- Detrimental effects of agricultural chemicals on food quality;
- Depletion of finite reserves of concentrated plant nutrients (e.g., phosphate rock); and
- Decrease in numbers of farms, particularly family-type farms, and disappearance of localized and direct marketing systems.5
By the late 1980s, a number of private and state-run certifying bodies were operating in the United States. Standards varied among these entities, causing trouble in commerce. Certifiers often refused to recognize products certified as organic by other agents, which was a problem particularly for organic livestock producers seeking feed, and for processors trying to source ingredients. In addition, a number of well-publicized incidents of fraud began to undermine the credibility of the organic industry.
In an effort to curb these problems, the organic community pursued federal legislation. The result was the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990, which mandated the creation of the National Organic Program (NOP) and the passage of uniform organic standards. These standards were incorporated into NOP regulations.6 Implementation of the regulations began on April 21, 2001, and all organic certifiers, producers, processors and handlers were required to be in full compliance by Oct. 21, 2002.7
Beyond federal legislation, the California Organic Products Act (COPA) was signed into law in 2003, and beginning Jan. 1, 2003, all products sold in California containing a total of less than 70% organic ingredients were no longer allowed to use the word organic on the front labeling panel. Later in 2003, the State Assembly repealed the non-food provision of the COPA but in the end, cosmetics remained a part of the Act.