OCA files federal complaint urging USDA to regulate organic personal care ‘cheater brands’

The Organic Consumers Association (OCA), along with certified organic personal care brands Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, Intelligent Nutrients, and Organic Essence, filed a complaint with the USDA National Organic Program (NOP) in January, requesting action on the widespread and blatantly deceptive labeling practices of leading “organic” personal care brands, in violation of the federal organic law.
The complaint, filed on behalf of the estimated 50 million consumers of organic products, urges the USDA to regulate cosmetics as they do food. The complaint argues that, because of USDA inaction, products such as liquid soaps, body washes, facial cleansers, shampoos, conditioners, moisturizing lotions, lip balms, and make-up are advertised, labeled and marketed as “organic” or “organics” when, in fact, the products are not “organic” as understood by reasonable consumers.

“Unfortunately, the hands-off regulatory approach by the USDA’s National Organic Program during the Bush years failed to protect consumers from deceptive labeling in the personal care marketplace,” said Ronnie Cummins, Executive Director of the Organic Consumers Association. While the USDA enforces strict standards for the labeling of organic food, the NOP has not enforced the organic regulations in regards to personal care. “Given the increased resources and staffing at the National Organic Program under Obama, we’re optimistic that the situation will be rectified before too much more damage is done,” added Cummins.

“Consumers who pay a premium for high-end organic products expect the main cleansing and moisturizing ingredients of a product labeled ‘organic’ to be made from certified organic agricultural material produced on organic farms, and not from petrochemicals or pesticide and herbicide-intensive conventional farming,” explains Horst Rechelbacher, founder of Intelligent Nutrients (and founder and previous owner of Aveda).

David Bronner, President of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, stated, “Yesterday we re-filed our lawsuit in federal court against culprit companies under the Lanham Act for false advertising. One way or another, the era of ripping off organic consumers in personal care will soon come to an end.”

Ellery West, founder and owner of Organic Essence adds, “The predatory marketing practices of companies that take advantage of consumer trust in organic are cheating not only organic consumers but also small certified companies like ourselves.”

On November 5, 2009, the USDA National Organic Standards Board formally recommended that the National Organic Program regulate personal care to ensure that any use of the word “organic” on a personal care product is backed up by third-party certification to USDA organic standards. Immediately following the recommendation, the OCA launched a consumer boycott of the major “organic” cheater brands, and has produced a list of USDA certified organic brands that are true to their claims and are safe for organic consumers. -Organic Consumers Association

New USDA rules establish strong organic standards for pasture and livestock
After over 10 years of lobbying, family farmers across the country who produce organic milk are celebrating the release of strict new USDA regulations that establish distinct benchmarks requiring the grazing and pasturing of dairy cows and other livestock. Many hope that the new rule will put an end to the abuses that have flooded the organic market with suspect milk from a handful of mega-dairies generally confining thousands of animals in feed lots and barns.

“We are delighted by the new rules,” said Mark Kastel, Senior Farm Policy Analyst at the Wisconsin-based Cornucopia Institute. “The organic community has been calling for strong regulations and its enforcement for much of the past decade. Cheap organic milk flowing from the illegitimate factory farms has created a surplus that is crushing ethical family farm producers.”

At least five times during the last decade, the National Organic Standards Board, a key USDA advisory panel made up of industry stakeholders, passed guidance or recommended regulatory changes clarifying the requirement that dairy cows and other ruminants must be allowed to exhibit their native behavior and consume a meaningful amount of their feed from grazing on pastures.

New rulemaking had been delayed by the Bush administration, using a myriad of tactics, some of which are being scrutinized in an ongoing investigation by the USDA’s office of Inspector General.

The Cornucopia Institute, on behalf of its family farmer members, also filed numerous formal legal complaints with the USDA’s National Organic Program calling for investigations into alleged violations of organic livestock management practices occurring on many of the 20 largest factory farm facilities.

The biggest scandal in the history of the organic industry centered around one such USDA investigation with the regulators finding “willful” violations of 14 organic regulations on factory farms operated by Aurora Dairy, a more than $100 million company based in Colorado (Aurora produces private-label, store brand milk for Wal-Mart, Costco and large grocery chains).
“The public controversies concerning Aurora, and alleged improprieties by the largest milk processor in the country, Dean Foods (Horizon Organic), put increasing pressure on the USDA to rein-in the scofflaws in this industry,” Kastel added.

“I am confident that the new rule, along with a commitment to rigorous enforcement by certifiers, will put an end to these abuses and restore fairness to the organic dairy sector,” said Kevin Engelbert, a dairy farmer from Nichols, NY who milks 100 cows. “Consumers will be able to purchase organic dairy products with confidence, knowing that regardless of the label, the animals who produced the milk were on pasture, as nature intended,” Engelbert added.

The new rules require that dairy cows and other ruminants be out on pasture for the entire growing season, but for not less than 120 days. It also requires that the animals receive at least 30% of their feed, or dry matter intake (DMI), from pasturing. In addition, organic livestock will be required to have access to the outdoors year-round with the exception of temporary confinement due to mitigating and documentable environmental or health considerations.

“These minimum benchmarks will assure consumers that industrial-scale dairies don’t just create the ‘illusion’ of grazing and continue producing illegitimate organic milk,” said Kastel. He continued by emphasizing to consumers that, “Based on Cornucopia’s research 90% of all name brand dairy products are produced with high-integrity—the handful of factory farms are bad aberrations and will now be dealt with.”

“I, along with many other family farmers, watch with intense frustration as the seemingly unprincipled mega dairies continually bend the rules and engage in unfair competition with me,” said Rebecca Goodman, a certified organic dairy producer who milks 40 cows in Wonewoc, WI. “I am thankful that the USDA is now standing with us to preserve the integrity of the organic food label.”

“When Secretary Vilsack met with organic dairy farmers in Wisconsin this past summer he told us that he would ‘level the playing field’ for small and medium producers,” Goodman added. “These new regulations appear to be the first of what I hope will be many steps by the Secretary following through on this important commitment.”

“I am so pleased to know that the process of rule change that will ensure that organic livestock will consume a significant amount of pasture during the grazing season is coming to a successful conclusion”, said Kathie Arnold, an organic dairy producer in Truxton, NY, who has a 130 cow herd in partnership with her husband and his brother. Arnold, a respected leader in the organic dairy community, has been intimately involved in the stakeholder dialogue for the past six years and was the point person for collating comments from farmers around the country that were submitted to the USDA as the consensus agreement—now largely adopted in the USDA regulations.

“For those of us whose livelihoods depend on the integrity of the organic label, we view this as excellent news,” said Blake Alexandre, a large-scale, grass-based dairy producer from Humboldt County, CA. “We thank the leadership at the USDA for their diligent work and will be carefully monitoring how this is implemented. But every indication appears to meet our expectations.”
The new organic livestock standards will go into effect 120 days after publication in the Federal Register, or approximately June 16, 2010. -Cornucopia Institute