Friday, January 15, 2010

When nobody's going organic because they've already gone!

I've just walked into the house from CVS, where I spent far too long crawling through label after label of hair spray looking for a natural, organic alternative.  I tend not to make the long drive to Whole Foods unless I'm already headed that direction for school, but the times they are a-changin', (with apologies for mixing musical metaphors here).  I was hopeful I'd find something at CVS. 

Checking my email, I discovered a note from my wonderful cousin Denise Yonemoto, urging me to read the latest story about a lawsuit over greenwashing.  The suit, brought by the Organic Consumers Association, Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps, Intelligent Nutrients, and Organic Essence, disparaged the misleading use of the term "organic" in the labeling of personal care products.  Imagine my chagrine to see on the list the maker of some of the hopeful products I'd just encountered at CVS.  Although not culpable until proven guilty, the plaintiffs claim the following companies advertise products as "organic," when in fact the products contain raw materials of non-organic origins.

From the news release posted by one of the co-plaintiffs, the Organic Consumers' Association:

“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 Corp.)

The corporations named in the complaint are The Hain Celestial Group, Inc.; Kiss My Face Corporation; YSL Beaute, Inc. (“YSL”); Giovanni Cosmetics, Inc. (“Giovanni”); Cosway Company, Inc. (“Cosway”); Country Life, LLC (“Country Life”); Szep Elet LLC (makers of Ilike Organic Skin Care); Eminence Organic Skin Care, Inc.; Physicians’ Formula Holdings, Inc. (makers of Organic Wear); Surya Nature, Inc.; Organic Bath Company, Freeman Beauty Division of pH Beauty Labs, Inc. (makers of Freeman Goodstuff Organics)."

According to the news release, which you can read in its entirety here, , the USDA is rather lax about policing personal care labeling, while much more strict about food products.  I couldn't tell from the article whether that's because the law actually only regulates food labeling and not toiletries, or whether it's just a resource allocation choice made by the feds.

Either way, I think it's quite fair to expect that raw materials in a product labeled organic do, in fact, have organic origins.  And, I sometimes do spend more to get that benefit.  And I do feel misled by these companies, if, in fact, the law suit's claims are accurate.

Having said all that, I recently complained on my facebook wall about another organic purchase dilemma.  I was looking for eggs that were all things good.  Regional.  Organic. Vegetarian fed.  Free range.  High omega-3.  No hormones.  Etc.  And I found them, but they were in a PLASTIC container.  Drat!  What are those purveyors thinking?  I imagine they're thinking tensile strength, because - not sure if you've seen this - the plastic egg cartons actually have a third layer of plastic nestling the eggs, between the eggs themselves and the top of the plastic carton.  Eventually I opted for non-organic eggs from Good Natured Family Farms [GNFF], because they were everything else I wanted, and sold in a recycled paper carton.  My friend Kaye Johnston, who is very into the local food scene here in Kansas City, left a note on my fb wall that Good Natured Family Farms is, in effect, producing organically, but had opted out of the organic certification process because of the overburdening expense associated with certification. 

Although I don't doubt Kaye, I am left wondering how exact their organic practices are compared to those required for certification.  Their website, link here,   On the other hand, if their practices are truly organic, I really don't care whether they've paid for the certification or not.  I just care if I'm getting good, local, organic produce.  If certification is out of reach financially, especially for the type of small- to medium-size farm that is often at the forefront of organic agriculture, then I want to accept their produce and support their practices.  The last thing I want to do is have these farms put out of business due to the price of certification.  And honestly, the price for those GNFF eggs was within the realistic range for the non-wealthy among us.  If certification is pushing the price of organics into the luxury range, that's totally counter-productive.  By the way, the 6.7 oz. bottle of Intelligent Nutrient Organic Hairspray (top right) retails for a whopping $29.  Organic needs to become the norm, not the luxury alternative it is now.

Yes, I get that the certification assists consumers in being confident, and thwarts greenwashing and deceptive marketing practices. And to prove the point, I recently took a great walking tour of a four-generation family-owned vineyard in Sonoma (Kunde) where I heard a lot about sustainable practices, and was shown row upon row of large, covered compost heaps piled up on the hill.   But then we walked by a large fertilizer tank, and I suddenly realized that I had not once heard the term "organic," and while they were busy hawking what was good and green, they had opted for half-measures.  I felt a little hoodwinked.

So, the jury is out as of yet on the defendant companies named above.  Are they supporting growers like GNFF, or are they misleading the public like Kunde?  

Although really, I'm not sure I want to rag on Kunde.  They're moving in the right direction, which is better than most.  I live for the day when nobody's going organic, because they've a-a-l-r-e-a-d-y gone!

Read here about Kunde's sustainability practices:
More about Good Natured Family Farms,

1 comment:

  1. Monsanto wants to have its genetically engineered seeds certified as organic. If you write or call many of the organic food packagers and ask if they can guarantee that none of their produce comes form genetically engineered seed, most of them cannot do it. They have an acceptable level of contamination around 1% to 3%.

    Most alfalfa grown in this country goes to feed livestock. If Monsanto's genetically engineered alfalfa gets into the environment, we will not know for certain that our "organic" milk and meat came from animals that ate only non-GE alfalfa.

    In the US, 85% of soybeans and 90% of corn are from GE seeds - Round Up Ready. The contamination across the non-GE spectrum is massive.

    There are no guarantees any more, except the guarantee that there is most likely GE contamination in our food, no matter how much we try to be "organic."