What’s in a Name?

That which we call organic by any other name would be as clean…right? Well, maybe not. The other day I ran across an article on the SFGate website that got me thinking about the importance of the language used by manufacturers of “organic” nonfood items. As the author of the article pointed out, there is a clear set of standards that makes the distinction between organic food and that which is genetically modified, irradiated and/or exposed to pesticides. That is to say, any food item that bears the name “organic” must actually live up to it! Unfortunately, the same is NOT true when it comes to nonfood items. The U.S. Department of Agriculture does little to oversee use of the term “organic” on items that are not edible (and neither does the Federal Trade Commission, for fear of “duplicating” USDA duties). So basically, there are no government regulations set in place to distinguish between the truly organic and the naturally-sourced “chemical soup” when it comes to cleaning products, personal care products and textiles. Calling your shampoo “organic” could be about as subjective as calling your computer “cute.”

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So, what does this mean for the consumer?

Should we even bother shelling out the extra cash for products that may or may not be as pure as they claim to be…? The good news is that there ARE third-party certifications out there that can help us make informed decisions about our organic purchases. When it comes to personal care products, the National Sanitation Foundation and the American National Standards Institute have formed a private certification called “NSF/ANSI 305.” And for those who live by the adage “If you can’t eat it, don’t put it on your skin,” the USDA label can be found on personal care items that are composed of at least 95% organic “food.” For textile products — items like clothing, sheets and mattresses — consumers can verify purity by looking for the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) and the Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS) certifications.

USDA Organic, GOLS and GOTS logo

Other things to look out for…

Organic” is not the only term that can be misleading. The term “natural” is generally assumed to mean that an item is minimally processed and does not contain particular additives. However, this word does not have an established legal definition…therefore, there is no standard by which to substantiate this claim — whether we are talking about food or nonfood items. Similarly, terms like “green,” “eco-friendly,” and “earth-friendly” have no real meaning because there is no scientific or regulatory basis for them.

eco-friendly-greenwash

Using our resources…

Taking the time to research products that are truly organic may seem like a chore, but it is certainly worth the extra effort. Keep in mind that most certification programs not only oversee the ingredients that go into the products, but also the way in which those ingredients are obtained. So when we choose items that are certified organic, we are not only protecting ourselves and our families, but also our environment. Let’s take advantage of our educational resources, so that we can be better stewards of earth’s resources!

** Use the links on this page to learn more about third-party organic certifications and find lists of the manufacturers who hold them. Also, check out this website for some excellent information about deciphering the language used by manufacturers of bedding and mattresses.

 

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