We know, as a consumer, that you want to buy authentic and wholesome products that are good for you, your family and for the planet. However, it’s important to know that not all products are created equally. You see key words like ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ on labels all the time, but what does that really mean? How do you determine the mediocre from the products that are a cut above; or the imposters from the real deal?
Natural is an alluring word to see on labels. It brings to mind images of clean, healthy products, sourced from the natural world. In reality though, natural products can still contain a variety of different ingredients, including synthetics. Many companies will use the word natural as a selling point rather than a promise.
In fact, major certification bodies like the USDA and the EU don’t have specific regulations around ‘natural’ products. This leaves a lot open to interpretation on the part of the producers. Natural products can still contain GMOs, antibiotics, growth hormones, and pesticides. There are also no animal welfare requirements.
There is no set percentage of natural ingredients to qualify a product as ‘natural’. The quality and amount of genuinely natural ingredients can vary greatly. Natural cosmetics, for example, are made using ingredients and derivatives that come from plants. The reality, however, is that ‘natural’ plant-derivatives could still be highly processed and even harmful. Ultimately, unless a product has been certified as natural by a governing body, it comes with absolutely no guarantees.
Generally, if a product is organic it is also made from natural organic ingredients. Organic products, however, can include varying amounts of both certified and uncertified organic ingredients (generally between 10-70%). Not all of these ingredients are free from harmful synthetics. Toxic chemicals can still make their way into organic products.
Things like synthetic dyes, fragrances, and additives can be added to increase a product’s shelf-life. For this reason, it’s important to read labels and to pay attention to wording. Products labelled as ‘organically grown’ or ‘made with organic ingredients’ can be intentionally misleading.
Even more confusingly, unlike organic foods, there are no legal regulations in place for labelling beauty products. Legally, any cosmetic could call itself ‘organic’. Whether it genuinely is organic is another matter altogether. When it comes to beauty products, it’s best to look for a label like the Soil Association’s COSMOS logo.
Certified organic products are essentially the gold standard. Official certification bodies inspect organic producers and their products to ensure sustainable ingredients and practices. If a product is certified organic it means that the company has actively sought to be certified and earned the privilege to bear an official logo. It means that the producer has gone through rigorous certification inspections to ensure top quality organic ingredients and production methods. Producers are also periodically inspected to ensure the integrity and purity of the foods and ingredients they produce is maintained.
For a product to be certified organic, every stage in the production process—from growth, through harvesting, storage, to transport and processing—must comply with strict international organic standards.
In the UK, two of the key identifiers of certified organic products is the Euro Leaf and the Soil Association. In America, the USDA sets organic standards and compliance.
The Euro Leaf
The EU has strict regulations for organic farming, signified on packaging by the Euro Leaf logo. For a product to bear this symbol, it must be made with a minimum of 95% organic ingredients. The logo can only be used on products that have been certified by an authorised organic control body.
The Euro Leaf helps customer to identify which products were produced in accordance with Europe’s strict organic standards. This means no harmful chemicals, no GMOs, and any grown ingredients must come from land that has been certified as organic for a minimum of two years.
The Soil Association and COSMOS
The Soil Association is perhaps the most recognisable certification in the UK and are renowned for their strict and robust standards. In addition to meeting the EU’s organic regulations, the Soil Association has further requirements regarding soil quality, manufacturing practices, and free-roaming animals. Their stringent standards ensure that the entire process, from field to final product is completely organic and planet-friendly.
There is also a COSMOS Organic certification. In order for a product to display this logo, 95% of all ingredients must be organic. It’s also an assurance for customers that the product is free of animal testing, genetically modified ingredients, synthetics and controversial chemicals such as parabens and phthalates.
In order for a product to bear the USDA’s green-and-white seal, it must include 95% or more of the ingredients used are organic. The remaining 5% must come from an approved list of non-organic options. The USDA’s stringent legislation also takes into account soil quality, animal welfare, additives, weed and pest control, and prohibits processes like genetic engineering. Similar to the EU organic standards, any farmed ingredients must have been produced on land that has been certified organic for three years.
It’s easy to be sucked in by clever marketing that uses words like ‘natural’ or ‘organic ingredients’, and be fooled into thinking that a product is chemical free and made sustainably.
Many companies, particularly in the beauty and cosmetics sector, deliberately try to mislead consumers by using buzzwords such as ‘all natural’ and ‘organic ingredients’ in what is known as “greenwashing”. This is a deliberate attempt to confuse and persuade consumers to buy products that are not genuinely organic.
Ultimately, the only real assurance that a product is 100% organic is if it bears an organic certification from a recognised body such as the USDA or the Soil Association. Always check the labels of items for the Certification Seal for products you know you can trust.