Answer: Yes. And verifying these requirements is the only way to make sure you’re not falling victim to fraudulent advertising claims when shopping for an organic mattress.
The government agency that controls use of the word “organic” is the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), under Title XXI of the 1990 Farm Bill, otherwise known as The Organic Foods Production Act of 1990.
This Act established national standards governing the marketing of certain agricultural products as organically produced products in order to assure consumers that organically produced products meet a consistent standard and to facilitate fairness within interstate commerce.
USDA control over use of the word “organic” extends to non-edible agricultural crops such as cotton and rubber trees, and further extends to non-edible products derived from livestock, such as wool.
To call any of these raw materials “organic,” each producer must meet the requirements listed in the Act and subject its facility and products to annual audit by a USDA-approved “certifying agent.”
Furthermore, for a complex finished textile product, such as a mattress, to be called organic it must be composed of a minimum of 95% certified raw materials as listed above. Then independently, the company manufacturing the mattress must also meet the requirements as listed in the Act and to subject its facility and finished products to an independent annual textile audit to standards such as GOTS, by a USDA-approved certifying agent.
Therefore, to call a mattress “organic” or to sell it as such, the company producing the mattress must earn independent organic status and be awarded an organic certificate annually in their name. This means that a mattress cannot be called organic simply because it is made up of one, some, or even all organic raw materials. It is the “certifying agent” that substantiates that the organic claim being made is actually true. It must be a USDA-approved certifying agent, who through an audit process can give a company legitimate claim or right to use the term “organic.”
Legislation in the United States established the Federal Trade Commission Act in1914. Under this Act, the Commission is empowered to, among other things, prevent unfair methods of competition and unfair or deceptive consumer acts or representations affecting commerce.
If a company calls its product “organic” and its facility, methods, and specific products have not been awarded organic status by a USDA-approved certifying agent, that claim is deceptive, and constitutes an unfair method of competition in the marketplace. Unfair marketing claims fall under the purview of the FTC.
Specific to environmental claims, the FTC has published the “Green Guide.” While the guide defines a number of environmental terms and correct use and association of logos and seals, the primary emphasis of the document is substantiation. Environmental marketing claims must be substantiated.
Section 5 of the FTC Act prohibits deceptive acts and practices in or affecting commerce. A representation, omission, or practice is deceptive if it is likely to mislead consumers acting reasonably under the circumstances and is material to consumers’ decisions. See FTC Policy Statement on Deception, 103 FTC 174 (1983). To determine if an advertisement is deceptive, marketers must identify all express and implied claims that the advertisement reasonably conveys. Marketers must ensure that all reasonable interpretations of their claims are truthful, not misleading, and supported by a reasonable basis before they make the claims. See FTC Policy Statement Regarding Advertising Substantiation, 104 FTC 839 (1984).
In the context of environmental marketing claims, a reasonable basis often requires competent and reliable scientific evidence. Such evidence consists of tests, analyses, research, or studies that have been conducted and evaluated in an objective manner by qualified persons and are generally accepted in the profession to yield accurate and reliable results. Such evidence should be sufficient in quality and quantity based on standards generally accepted in the relevant scientific fields, when considered in light of the entire body of relevant and reliable scientific evidence, to substantiate that each of the marketing claims is true.
James Kohm is the Associate Director for the Enforcement Division of the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. In that capacity, he oversees enforcement of all consumer protection orders and the Commission’s Green Marketing program. When Mr. Kohm spoke on January 27, 2013 at the World Market Center, he made clear that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) does not define what is or can be called organic. The FTC can conduct investigations relating to the organization, business, practices, and management of entities engaged in commerce and seek monetary redress and other relief for conduct injurious to consumers and other businesses from unsubstantiated environmental claims. Review the following links that report FTC investigation of unsubstantiated claims:
At Lifekind, we’ve worked hard to establish and maintain a comprehensive organic program. This ensures the creation and assurance of certified organic goods. Testing, quality assurance, lot tracking, purchasing organic raw materials (despite the higher cost), and spending thousands annually on auditing are just a few of the ways in which we keep our rigorous organic program in place. Third-party certification is the only thing protecting us from companies that do none of these things, but would try nevertheless to reap marketing dollars by fraudulently associating the term “organic” with their products.
It does not fall to the consumer or retailer to judge what is or is not organic. For a company to call its products “organic” it must have been granted organic status by a USDA-approved “certifying agent.” The consumer need only confirm a valid certificate with the company’s name and products listed, not a certification showing he name of a grower or producer. At Lifekind, we’ve covered all the bases, so you can “rest” assured you’re purchasing a TRULY organic mattress.
Misleading Claim #1: Merchants using organic logos, or statements that use the word “organic,” to describe their mattresses as “organic” or partially “organic.”
Incorrect Because: Under USDA National Organic Program regulations (USDA/NOP), there are no such categories. There is only “certified organic.”
Misleading Claim #2: Merchants claiming that since they use the same organic materials that are used in certified organic mattresses, why pay more?
Incorrect Because: Without submitting to an independent third-party audit, a consumer has no assurance that whatever organic component is claimed to be used was actually used in making a mattress.
Misleading Claim #3: Merchants claiming that since the materials they use are the same as those used by true organic manufacturers, what’s the difference?
Incorrect Because: Fast food and fine dining can include the same ingredients, but the outcomes are quite different—it’s about quality and purity, not just materials.
Misleading Claim #4: Merchants using someone else’s certification to infer it is their own, but somehow doesn’t have their name on it for a string of reasons.
Incorrect Because: USDA certification certificates are not transferable.
Misleading Claim #5: Merchants claiming their mattresses are “chemical free.”
Incorrect Because: This is scientifically impossible.
Misleading Claim #6: Merchants claiming their mattresses are “nontoxic.”
Incorrect Because: This is also scientifically impossible.
Misleading Claim #7: Merchants claiming their mattresses are “free of volatile organic compounds (VOCS)” or have no harmful outgassing.
Incorrect Because: This is also scientifically impossible, and without an independentUL/GREENGUARD™ or similar test for finished-product emissions, no one can possibly know exact outgassing levels.
Misleading Claim #8: Merchants claiming that their components have been tested for the presence of a long list of chemicals and that none were found.
Incorrect Because: What this means is that the mattress components may have been tested at one point, early in the process, by what is known as a “presence” test. True, these chemicals may not have been present at that time, but it gives absolutely no information as to what is actually emitting from the finished mattress. That is a consumer assurance UL/GREENGUARD™ testing provides.
Find out if a mattress is in fact listed on the certifier’s website.
Note: The name of the manufacturer or retailer must be entered precisely, such as “Organic Mattresses, Inc.”
Fortunately knock on wood I have never experienced a stove fire. Yet I have always kept a box of baking soda in the cupboard above the stove, just in case. And while it’s true that baking soda has been used for many years to stave off fires, I was surprised to learn that it has also been used in mattresses. So when I asked the president of Lifekind, Walt Bader, his opinion on this subject, I got quite an explanation — and, I must say, a major education.
According to Walt:
“There are some mattress manufacturers that say baking soda is safe because we bake with it, brush our teeth with it, and, in the form of carbon dioxide, even put it in beverages. So how can it not be safe?
“Technically, we don’t breathe in carbon dioxide (CO2), we excrete it in our breath as a waste product. Re-breathing into a plastic bag can cause carbon dioxide poisoning. At higher levels you can experience panic, irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, unconsciousness, or even death. And even though we’re talking about CO2, not baking soda, when baking soda is involved in a fire, it produces…guess what? Carbon dioxide. And it is absolutely possible to experience anoxia (total depletion in the level of oxygen) or asphyxiation from breathing CO2, which is created when harmless baking soda reacts to the heat of a fire.
“CO2 can kill you. In a fire environment, I am less concerned with CO2 reducing levels of oxygen than I am with the fact that it regulates breathing function because of changes in pH in the sleeper’s blood.
“This is why we use the more expensive option of wool as the only flame retardant in our mattresses.”
A few weeks ago I visited the factory where the mattresses are made for both Lifekind and our sister company, OMI (Organic Mattresses Incorporated). I felt like Charlie going to the Chocolate Factory. I have to admit that the enthusiasm Walt has for the company he has built from the ground up is reminiscent of Willie Wonka. However, I would like to continue to be employed at Lifekind, and will therefore stop comparing my boss to a slightly deranged, socially awkward candy fanatic.
As a recent college graduate with a degree in marketing, I came into the workforce with a jaded view of the way business is done in the world. I’ve studied companies and business practices that would make the average consumer ill. I’ll never forget being told by a reputable professor of finance that financial calculations are “more of an art than a science,” then watching the financial collapse of companies “too big to fail” caused by their “artistic” financial practices; learning that perceived value is more important than actual value; that it pays to outsource labor to make a cheaper product. Please don’t get me wrong; I feel proud to hold a business degree because of the broadened horizons and knowledge it has given me. I also feel fortunate to work for a company that has gone against such misguided principles and been extremely successful because of it.
I thought about all I had learned about how to run a business and as I watched Walt explain each aspect of his immaculately clean factory and machinery, encouraging us to notice the purity of the raw materials and the quality of the stitching in the fabric. Walt was also a marketing professor for 13 years, and has run successful businesses for 40 years, so he’s no stranger to the principles of marketing; he’s just trying to run a business in accordance with his personal principles as well.
The resulting companies, Lifekind and OMI, are run in a way that limits our impact on the environment. In the entire factory there is only one traditionally sized trash can. Almost all waste from production is recycled. This was incredibly impressive to me. We also make a product that makes absolutely no compromise on quality or purity. Any cotton or wool that falls on the floor is not used, even though the floor is so clean it would put my kitchen counters to shame. Employees don’t smoke or wear fragrance and, even more importantly, they’re happy and respected.
Long story short, I came back from the factory wanting to purchase everything Lifekind has ever offered, because I have absolute faith that it’s the best available, and that makes me feel good about recommending those products to my customers.
I was first introduced to Lifekind by way of my own chemical sensitivity. I was searching for employment with a list of requirements that included a chemical-free work environment, organically based products, and a company with a conscience for helping others. I was thrilled when I learned about Lifekind and found that the company was based in my hometown!
It was only after reading Toxic Bedrooms, written by Lifekind’s president, Walt Bader, that I began to piece together a series of health problems that had plagued me for over two years. It began when I had purchased a new, conventional mattress. The day the mattress arrived I immediately experienced a burning sensation in my eyes and throat. Lucky for me, the mattress company agreed to remove it and replace it with a showroom model that they said had already offgassed. I still didn’t understand what might be in the mattress that was causing such difficulty.
The replacement mattress arrived, and even though it didn’t smell like fresh chemicals, it was so uncomfortable that I went out and naively purchased a memory-foam topper. However, when I removed the memory-foam topper from the plastic wrapping, the chemical smell was so bad I had to take it outside to air. Weeks passed, then months, and still when I went to smell the memory-foam topper it burned my eyes and nose.
With winter coming on, I rolled up the topper with disappointment and put it in the basement. By spring of the next year it had finally offgassed enough for me to place it on my horribly uncomfortable mattress.
In retrospect I realize that for over 20 years I had slept on organic cotton futons, and it had never occurred to me there might be something in a conventional mattress that would affect me so greatly and cause such health issues. But that was exactly the case.
Presently, I am a well-rested sleeper with two Lifekind mattresses. All of the health issues from my past have disappeared and I have found a new purpose in life, where I feel confident helping others in the transition to organic, chemical-free bedding.
-Kimberly, Product Specialist