Sunday, July 27, 2014

Organics - More than Just a Label

Lately I've noticed a new crop of businesses coming up within our handmade community. "Organics". With names that include "Organics" at the end, these new companies lead consumers to believe that their products are indeed - organic. With an abundance of what I like to refer to as "Kitchen Sink" style companies selling everything from Baby Wipes to Bar Soap I am especially wary of this free use of the word "Organics".

*What is Organic?

Organic means that the plants used in the product were grown without chemicals such as chemical fertilizers or chemical bug killers. It means that the products were grown in an all natural manner. Because using chemical controls is cheaper than all natural controls Organic products tend to cost quite a bit more than non-organic products.

In the cosmetics/soap industry if a product contains 80% or more Organic ingredients it can be considered Organic. The reason for this is that products such as bar soap include other ingredients such as lye, which are not organic.

*Is Organic the Same as All Natural?

No. Often I snatch up a product with the word "Organics" on its label or in the company name and flip it over to read the ingredient list. Many times I am disappointed to find the products contain sulfates, parabens, chemical preservatives and more.

All Natural means the product is made from materials that come from plant or earth based all natural origin. Most of Brown Barn's bases are all natural. If a Brown Barn product is scented with essential oil it is usually 100% all natural but not organic. If it uses a fragrance oil (such as Moonlight Pomegranate) it is what we like to refer to as "Nearly Natural" because the only non-natural ingredient is the fragrance oil.

Because of the 80% ruling, products can actually be made with USDA Certified Organic materials and still be "Nearly" Natural because they include fragrance oil or chemical preservatives.

*USDA Organic

There is a difference between a product being made with Certified Organic materials and the company/product/lab itself being certified Organic. The USDA has a stringent and rigorous program which allows companies to have their lab spaces certified Organic. This year Brown Barn has been preparing to undergo this certification process. This calls for taking measures to ensure the Organic materials do not mix with non-organic materials and that production facilities and methods protect against contamination of Organic material with non-organic materials. Because of this Brown Barn is looking to relocate its lab to a larger facility in order to better meet the requirements of the USDA.

*If a Company uses the word "Organics" in its name can I assume it is Certified Organic?

No. I recently contacted a company whose baby products we were thinking of carrying to find out more about them. This company has the word "Organics" in its company name however their product labels did not have the Certified USDA Organic mark.

Here is how this conversation unfolded:

Me: Do you make your own products or do you private label products that come from another maker?

"Other Organics" Company: We make our products in our studio behind our house. It's a really cute shed.

Me: Is your "Studio" certified Organic?

"Other Organics" Company: No - but we use ingredients that are certified organic from another company.

Now this tells me that this company may or may not be following protocols to ensure their products meet the criteria for being USDA Certified Organic. Because they've not gone through the process of having their work-space USDA Certified Organic we cannot know this for sure. This company, whose products are featured in many Baby magazines and used on thousands of babies is not Certified Organic, it just has the word "Organics" in its name. We are asked to trust them based on their word that the products they are making in the shed behind their house are being produced in a trustworthy manner that ensure the Organic materials are not mixing with/being contaminated by non-organic materials.

Because this company is not certified Organic but uses the word "Organics" in its name customers just assume that this company is providing an Organic product that meets all of the standards of Organic production. In reality, this company is not monitored by any agency and we must rely on their word that they are following good protocols.

Brown Barn uses Certified Organic ingredients throughout its line. We also use Organically Grown/Produced ingredients. We do not use the word "Organic" on our front label because we would never want to mislead a customer.

*What is the Difference Between Certified Organic and Organically Grown?

An example of a Certified Organic ingredient is the flowers from a Chamomile plant that is grown in a USDA Certified Organic Greenhouse where all elements are controlled and no chemicals have been used in the greenhouse. An example of an Organically Grown ingredient would be the leaves from a Birch Tree grown in the woods where no chemicals are present or a Chamomile plant grown outside in a field that has not been USDA Certified Organic but whose farmer promised he used no chemicals.

Unfortunately we cannot always just "trust" that everyone is true to their word. Because of this we strongly recommend that if you desire Organic products you either stick to companies that use the USDA Certified Organic mark on their label (it is illegal to use this unless you are indeed Certified Organic) or only purchase from companies you can trust.

Brown Barn hopes to be able to offer USDA Certified Organic products under its Sister Company label "Honest Balance" in the coming year. By becoming certified ourselves we hope to keep our costs down and be able to bring an Organic product to our customers that is affordable and maintains the high quality our customers enjoy from Brown Barn and Brown Burl.

The next time you pick up a product from a company with the word "Organics" in the name look for the USDA Certified Organic seal to be sure you are getting what you are paying for.

Have a great Sunday!

Chris Untiedt
The Brown Barn Company llc