September 3, 2013 by thesoapalchemist
There sure are a lot of soap companies out there claiming that their products are “organic” or “made with organic” ingredients. There are many that also say they are “certified organic.” Certified by whom?
Hmmm… The Natural Bar Soap Company adds several oils to our formulations that are purchased and labeled “organic,” and I would love to use that term on my labeling. However, just as the FDA has stringent guidelines for when a soap becomes a cosmetic or drug, I am sure guidelines exist concerning use of the words “organic,” “made with organic,” and “certified organic.” Before labeling my products with these words, I thought it best to look into what sorts of regulation apply to their use.
Google searching “organic regulation” results in a plethora of information on the subject. I discovered that the FDA does not regulate organic products, except to the extent that they are soaps, cosmetics, drugs, or foods.
However, I did learn that the United States Department of Agriculture does. In fact, there is a federal regulation, Title 7, section 205, titled “The Organic Foods Production Act of 1990″ that regulates the use of the terms “organic,” “made with organic,” and “certified organic.” Interestingly enough, although it is a food act, it is also applied to personal hygiene products (there is a debate currently going on about whether it should apply to non-consumable products, but until the matter is settled, soap makers need to follow the regulation as well).
The OFPA guidelines require adherence by producers of agricultural products, as well as handlers of those products (that would be soap makers, like myself). The only people exempt from the act, are retailers of the finished products, and handlers who will not sell more than $5000.00 per year of their “made with organic” and “organic” products. However, handlers wishing to claim that exemption must keep records proving that their ingredients are in fact Certified organic. Additionally, even though their ingredients may be certified, they are NOT allowed to label their finished product “certified” or imply in any way that their product is “certified.” Products claiming to be organic must have a minimum of 95% organic ingredients. Another designation, “made with organic,” only requires the organic component be 70-95% of the finished product.
So, what’s a soapmaker to do?
In order to prove your product is 95% organic, you need to have your formula tested. How many on-line soapcrafters have done that? I would guess not many.
Another interesting note here, is that according to the USDA website, they consider glycerin, a byproduct of the soap making process, to be a synthetic. This is because the glycerin does not exist naturally on its own, but must be synthesized during saponification. So, the higher glycerin content of your soap, the less “organic” it is in the eyes of the USDA. While doing research for a previous blog article, I tried to find a calculation to determine the precise glycerin content of a given recipe for soap, and was unable to find one. I found several articles suggesting a range of values, but nothing precise. Therefore, how could the average soapcrafter determine this necessary piece of information? I personally don’t agree that glycerin is a synthetic. Many products in our grocery stores that are labeled “organic” including cookies and other baked goods, underwent chemical changes as a result of the baking process, yet are still worthy of being labeled “organic.” But, I digress…
As I mentioned earlier, I would LOVE to label my “made with organic” soaps as such, but because of our success on the internet, I cannot qualify for the certification exemption. To use the organic terms on my labeling, I’ll need to speak with an Accredited Certifying Agent, who in my state, happens to be the Maryland Department of Agriculture. Unfortunately, they are unavailable to talk to me at the moment. I’ve left a message… and I’m hoping they’ll call me back.
I did, however, speak to a lady at the National Organic Program, who gave me a little bit of a head’s up into the certification process:
I’ll need to furnish letters from each of my suppliers, addressed to me, stating that the products I have been purchasing are “Certified Organic” by the USDA. I will also need to pay for each of my soap recipes to be “formulated” to determine that the proper ratio of organic to synthetics is in line with the organic standard (read: LOTS OF $$$). I’ll also need a site inspection of my facility, ensuring that there is no cross-contamination of organic with non-organic ingredients. I can’t even wager a guess as to how much becoming certified would cost, or how long it would take me, but I’m relatively sure that it’s a lengthy, costly process.
What I have gained, from looking into all of this, is a strong hunch that most of the soap companies out there claiming to sell “ORGANIC” soaps are using the word without having done their homework. Doing so puts them at great risk. The NOP has an arm that exists purely to enforce the OFPA Federal Regulation, and states they will “investigat(e) allegations of severe and willful violations for possible civil or criminal penalties.” If you have not gone through the certification process, and cannot substantiate your claims, it’s best to avoid the words “organic,” “made with organic” and “certified.”
While we are unable to use those words on our products at this time, we will continue to stand by our commitment to make ALL NATURAL soaps, naturally.
Our Promises to You:
We will use vegetable oils, and not animal fats to create our natural soap.
We will use natural Essential Oils and Certified Natural fragrances instead of synthetic fragrance oils.
We will use natural colorants and botanicals instead of artificial dyes, lakes, oxides, micas and ultramarines.
We will only test our products on our children, willing humans and ourselves. 🙂
Additional regulation information can be found at the USDA NOP website: http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/nop