As consumers increasingly look to third party certifications when choosing natural and/or organic products, the USDA has often been held up as the gold standard for US-based products. After all, to earn the USDA seal of approval, your skin care has to be virtually 100% food-grade certified organic – not an easy feat, to be sure, and virtually impossible if you’re in the hair care or makeup industry, for example.
I imagine that is why the USDA found itself under increasing pressure to come up with a certification that did not demand the entire product be, in effect, edible. Admittedly, I was pretty excited when I first heard the news about this new standard. My hope was that it would allow companies to gain certification for products that contain high levels of organic and natural ingredients, but use naturally-derived ingredients when necessary in products like shampoos, laundry detergents, and so forth.
Turns out, not so much.
The Truth Behind BioBased
In what can only be described as yet another landslide victory for Corporate America, the USDA’s new BioBased Label requires a whopping….wait for it…TWENTY-FIVE PERCENT of the ingredients in a given product be “derived from sustainable materials.” That’s right, not only does a product need only 25% of non-synthetics to qualify, but that 25% doesn’t even have to be organic – just naturally-derived.
To read more about the new standard and how it was lowered from the original 51% standard down to 25%, due to “nearly unified industrial opposition,” check out this recent article in the New York Times. To understand why the label says 57% on it, well, you’re on your own because I couldn’t find the logic behind that decision anywhere, including on the USDA’s own BioBased Fact Sheet.
Finding Truly Eco-Friendly Beauty Products
My personal recommendation is to ignore this new standard altogether if you are searching for genuinely natural, organic, and sustainable products. Maybe I’m overly skeptical, but I believe its purported benefits are overwhelmingly overshadowed by the irresistible opportunity it presents for intentional public deception. The marketing departments for the big personal care and household products companies are going to have the best year ever.
Fortunately for eco-conscious consumers, there are plenty of certifications that do a better job than the new BioBased label. OK, let’s be honest: pretty much any of them do a better job. So look for labels like NaTrue, BDIH, EcoCert (which, for all its flaws, is still far better than BioBased), Soil Association, Whole Foods Premium Body Care, and CosmeBio.