Yesterday's Daily Mail article names and embarrasses Boots and Nivea for making false organic claims.
They reported recent research by the UK Soil Association and examined products from a range of beauty brands that made organic claims, and found that many contained synthetic ingredients such as methylisothiazolinone (a particularly unpleasant preservative).
There are currently no legal requirements for organic labeling in cosmetics, and some companies are taking advantage of this gap.
Peter Melchett of the Soil Association says: "The many companies that strive to meet standards are undermined by those who take shortcuts and make misleading claims."
Customers are cheated in two ways. First, they are tempted to buy products based on non-existent organic references.
Secondly, they pay more for organic products because their production costs more. Therefore, it is tempting for companies to charge the premium but use cheaper non-organic ingredients.
In the case of the boot oil mentioned in the article, they claimed that the product is 100% organic if it is not. Boots responded to the criticism by saying, "Problems with the Botanics range related to labeling and not the products themselves."
That's right – but they completely miss the point in this defense. The problem is that they wrongly claimed that the product was 100% organic – nobody suspected that the product was bad or dangerous.
The British Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is increasingly drawn into this moral vacuum and now regulates claims to organic marketing.
In October 2012, Boots was instructed (again) to stop promoting their Little Me Organics (ASA Summary Ruling) line without a disclaimer notifying customers that the products were not truly organic. You can read my previous post here.
In January 2013, Neom Luxury Organics (ASA Summary Ruling) was instructed to "not use organic products in relation to their products unless they have reliable evidence." This judgment has effects far beyond the contested candles.
It raises the bar for organic demands. In the past, companies thought it was sufficient to claim organic status by being really natural or using one or the other organic ingredient. The ASA judgments mean that you need a third party review against a reputable organic trading standard like the Soil Association or ECOCERT .
I assume (and hope) that organic beauty products will be regulated by law at some point in the future – as with food. Can anyone remember the fraud with organic eggs? It was a national scandal and the guy went to jail!