Organic Consumers Assn. & Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps File Lawsuit in Federal Court to Save Access to USDA Organic Program for Personal Care & Non-Food Items
ESCONDIDO, Calif., June 14 -- The Organic Consumers Association (OCA) representing more than 500,000 members and Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps / Dr. Bronner’s & Sun Dog’s Magic ( http://www.drbronnersundog.com ), makers of certified organic food-grade lotions, lip balms and body balms, jointly filed a complaint in federal court today to save access to the National Organic Program for qualifying non-food products. The federal lawsuit comes less than two weeks after widely published media reports confirmed that USDA was attempting to disallow non- food products to represent their certified compliance with the National Organic Program, even though the previous USDA policy had been to encourage qualified body care, dietary supplements, and other items to certify to NOP standards. The new policy will go into effect on Oct. 21, unless injunctive relief is granted by the court.
The complaint is part of OCA’s Coming Clean Campaign for strong organic standards, which has the support of over 300 businesses. “It is our responsibility to fight the USDA’s illegal policy which discourages organic farming, wipes out millions of dollars in investment in certified organic non-food products and violates basic rule making procedures in the Administrative Procedures Act,” says Ronnie Cummins, OCA founder and National Director. “If qualifying brands are blocked from labeling and marketing their NOP certified compliant products and displaying the USDA organic seal, consumers will be unable to distinguish such NOP compliant products from packaging and marketing of companies touting ”organic“ claims on non-NOP compliant products with little organic content and/or contain synthetic ingredients not allowed in products to NOP standards.”
The complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia seeks injunctive relief in the form of a court order to stop the new USDA policy that attempts to ban any labeling or marketing of products that are certified to comply with the NOP standards to represent or communicate their compliance in packaging or marketing, or use the organic seal. The text of the complaint may be viewed on the web by visiting http://www.organicconsumers.org/bodycare/legalcomplaint.pdf
BACKGROUND ON THE ORGANIC LABEL ISSUE
In a foundational May 2002 “Policy Statement” on the scope of the NOP, USDA made clear that producers of non-food products such as personal care containing agricultural ingredients “are eligible to seek certification under the NOP.” Based on this “Policy Statement,” Dr. Bronner’s and a number of other producers of body care including Sensibility Soaps and Nude Lubricant as well as manufacturers of other classes of non-food products like pet foods invested in sourcing and formulating with NOP-certified organic ingredients, and sought and obtained certification under the NOP, thereby allowing them to label and market their products as certified “organic” or “made with organic” under the NOP. Certifying agencies understood the Policy Statement to authorize such certification.
In April 2004, USDA issued a “Guidance Statement” reversing this position and indicating that producers of personal care products would not be eligible to seek certification. A month later, however, due to widespread consumer and industry outcry, that “Guidance Statement” was ordered rescinded by then-Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman. Then, about a month ago, USDA issued an informal “response” to a statement of the National Organic Standards Board and, in that response, indicated again that personal care products are not eligible to be labeled in accordance with NOP.
The newest USDA pronouncement mirrors the rescinded “Guidance Statement”, and completely contradicts the foundational 2002 USDA NOP policy that formally invited body care companies to invest in certifying NOP qualified products. “Having issued a policy statement intended to have a binding effect, on which Dr. Bronner’s and other companies justifiably relied, NOP cannot suddenly, without notice or opportunity for comment, adopt a new policy and purport to make it enforceable against producers of personal care products,” Bronner said. “We have been advised that, under well established principles under the Administrative Procedure Act, to adopt such a change in its previously established policy, USDA is required to proceed by notice and comment rulemaking.”
Lynn Betz, co-founder and president of Sensibility Soaps, Inc. said, “As a certified processor under the USDA NOP since July, 2003, our company developed 21 personal care products, which were certified ”organic“ by PA Certified Organic using the current NOP food standards. Since the scope of the NOP included personal care products, and products carrying the seal were legitimately certified, why should these products now be excluded? Sensibility Soaps, Inc. supports the NOP and definition of ”organic“ and the current stringent standards for companies in the food and personal care industries making product label claims about ”organic“. Consumers understand the consistency of a definition, whether it applies to food or personal care. Our company does not support separate organic standards for personal care products when obviously organic personal care products can be made using the current standards.”
“Organic olive oil does not become magically non-organic when used in a lotion instead of a salad dressing,” said Bronner. “Consumers and retailers want personal care that is nothing less than organic food for the skin. High quality certified organic body care products like ours should be distinguishable from low-quality so-called ”organic“ personal care that is based on standard conventional synthetic ingredients. Retailers and consumers who want organic food-grade personal care should look for the USDA organic seal.”
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