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Labeling for Legitimacy: Certifications for Natural and Organic Personal Care

By: Darrin C. Duber-Smith
Posted: November 18, 2013, from the December 2013 issue of GCI Magazine.

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COSMOS was developed at the European level by a group of well-established and highly influential certifiers: Bubdesverband Deutscher Industrieund Handelsunternehmen (BDIH) of Germany; Association Profesionnelle de Cosmetique Ecologique et Biologique (COSMEBIO), and Organisme de Controle et de Certification (Ecocert) of France; Instituto per la Certificazione Etica e Ambientale (ICEA), and L’Associazione Italiana per l’Agricoltura Biologica (AIAB) of Italy; and the Soil Association of the U.K. These groups founded an international non-profit association that was registered in Belgium on Nov. 4, 2008—the Association Internationale Sans But Lucratif (AISBL)—and collaborated to define common requirements and definitions for organic and natural cosmetics. For the group, addressing the excesses and failures of current developments is a key challenge, and establishing “sustainable development”—yet another term for products that are better for human health and the natural environment—to reconcile economic progress, social responsibility and maintain the natural balance is its goal.3

BDIH (Germany): This group4 is an association of industries and trading firms for pharmaceuticals, health care products, food supplements and personal hygiene products. The association has organized producers and distributors of cosmetics and natural cosmetics, food supplements, nutritional foods, over-the-counter medications and medical devices.

Cosmebio (France): This French trade association5 is focused on ecological and biological cosmetics. It organizes suppliers of ingredients, cosmetic laboratories, made-to-order manufacturers and distributors, and represents both French and foreign members. Created in 2002, Cosmebio is at the origin of the French Charter of Ecological and Biological Cosmetics, which defines the rules and basic principles for the manufacturers who wish to engage in this step.

Ecocert (France): Ecocert is an inspection and certification body6 that was established in France in 1991 by agronomists that were aware of the need to develop environmentally friendly agriculture, and of the importance of offering some form of recognition to those committed to this method of production. The Ecocert seal certifies the compliance of a company’s products, systems or services with its standard, and has contributed to the expansion of organic farming.

ICEA (Italy): This non-profit consortium7 of associations and organizations is connected with environmentally friendliness, fair trade and sustainable development. The consortium was founded with a view to offering a certification service based on the principles of independence, transparency, objectivity, impartiality and competence.

AIAB (Italy): This cultural association8 is recognized by the Italian Ministry of Agriculture and promotes organic agriculture, sustainable rural development and healthy nutrition. AIAB is responsible for the publication of organic production and processing codes of practice in the food, textiles, timber, catering, retail and eco-tourism sectors. It also co-manages an observatory on the prices of organic products; the Centre of Ecological Agronomic Demonstrations (CEDA) and Selforganized Offer and Demand Groups (GODO); and publishes the national magazine Bioagricultura.

Soil Association (U.K.): The Soil Association9 was founded in 1946 by a group of farmers, scientists and nutritionists that observed a direct connection between farming practice and plant, animal, human and environmental health. Today, it is the U.K.’s leading membership charity, campaigning for healthy, humane and sustainable food, farming and land use. As a charity, the Soil Association is reliant upon donations and the support of its members and the public to carry out its work.

AISBL (Belgium): As noted, the AISBL10 is the international non-profit association whose objective is to offer an internationally recognized standard for organic and natural cosmetics. In 2002, the founding organizations of COSMOS recognized that both the cosmetics industry and market are international, and that companies and consumers would be best served by a single standard.

Others in Europe: Other European certifiers include the Organic Farmers and Growers in the U.K.; the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movement (IFOAM) in Germany; Eco Garantie’s eco-seal program in the Netherlands,11 and NaTrue’s Natural and Organic Cosmetics program12 in Belgium. There are also many niche players throughout the region, and just about everyone in this space wants to certify products from around the world since products and seals really know no geographic boundaries.

Australian Standards

The National Association for Sustainable Agriculture (NASAA) is one of Australia’s leading organic certifiers, and focuses on providing quality, cost efficient organic certification services. It operates both in Australia and parts of Asia, including Thailand.13

Another important organic regulatory group is the Biological Farmers of Australia (BFA).14 This not-for-profit organization represents and develops the interests of more than 3,000 organic industry farmers, operators, producers, processors and traders. BFA also serves the greater community, taking on a role to educate the public about the benefits of organic food and farming. It is active in the development of organic standards, lobbying governments on behalf of the organic industry, and supporting the growth of the organic domestic and international markets for Australian operators. Further, it provides market intelligence and export requirements, and assists in the development of contacts and networking.

South and Latin American Standards

IBD Certifications is a Brazilian company15 that carries out agricultural, processing, wild harvesting, organic, biodynamic and fair trade inspection and certification activities under its IBD Certified Organic label. The group works in Brazil and Latin America to develop sustainable agriculture based on new economic, social and ecological relationships. This leading certifier has operations in Brazil, the United States, Mexico, Belgium, Paraguay, China, Thailand, India, Canada and Europe. It is approved by the Brazilian Ministry for organic production.

Besides the IBD Organic program, the company manages the fair trade programs EcoSocial and INTEGRA, as well as non-genetically modified organisms (GMOs), organic and natural cosmetics, and input approval programs. Further, the company is approved by the climate protection program Stop Climate Change (SCC), and has also been approved by the NSF and NaTrue cosmetic programs.

China and India

China, India and developing nations have yet to develop meaningful natural and organic certifications for products manufactured and sold in these regions. Companies based here often adopt North American or European standards, but, again, the choice for certification should really depend on where the product is being sold for maximum effectiveness. Understandably, the markets for natural and organic personal care products in relatively poorer countries are underdeveloped, so certifications are not terribly relevant to them.

‘Rule of Thumb’

If all these options seem confusing for the industry to digest, just think how the average layperson feels. It stands to reason that a good rule of thumb for those targeting the natural and organic market is: Embrace the seal that pertains to the desired market and region. Other than the European COSMOS harmonization effort, cosmetic- specific standards are pretty well-fragmented; however, dominant seals, such as Ecocert and USDA, are beginning to emerge as the preferred. Regardless of the specified certification, remember that consumers are reading labels at an accelerating rate. Therefore, what is on the label is increasing in importance. Choose wisely when it comes to certifications, and be careful with those product claims.