Cosmetics escape laws on organic labelling

Alexandra Smith March 31, 2012

Cosmetics

Not so natural ... consumers may have to wait years for guaranteed organic cosmetics.

CONSUMERS are being duped into buying cosmetics promoted as organic despite many products not being certified by any of the recognised organic groups in Australia and with some not even containing natural ingredients.

The organic food market has been booming in the past 20 years. The most recent figures show it has grown from a retail value of $28 million in 1990 to $947 million in 2010.

But while consumers can be confident that almost all the food products that are labelled organic on supermarket shelves meet stringent requirements, the same does not apply for the burgeoning organic cosmetics market.

Andrew Monk, the convener of standards at Biological Farmers of Australia, said the certification of organic food was now at a point where consumers could be guaranteed they were buying genuine organic.

''But we are at least two or three years away from that with cosmetics, which is still a grey area,'' he said.

Dr Monk said there were shampoos that claimed to be organic but were lucky to contain any natural products.

''They might use the word organic in their name, but then only contain a tiny bit of aloe vera,'' he said.

The Biological Farmers of Australia's regulatory arm, Australian Certified Organic, is the country's largest certifier of organic products and is behind the ''bud'' logo found on about 80 per cent of organic food and beverage products sold in stores.

Coles stocks 540 organic products, including 170 of its own brand, carrying the bud logo while Woolworths stocks 402 organic food products, including 289 in its private label range. Their product ranges have been increasing each year.

''We think it is pretty much as good as it is going to get when it comes to food labelling,'' Dr Monk said.

Grace Culhaci, owner of the Sydney company Pure & Green Organics, a certified organic skincare brand, said consumers were increasingly wanting to use organic cosmetics but could be misled by labelling.

Ms Culhaci said Australian organic cosmetics must contain a minimum of 95 per cent organic ingredients and must be certified by a government-approved body but the same strict conditions do not apply to imports.

She said one brand, Dr Organic from Britain, now had a large presence in Australia but many of its products contained very few organic ingredients, yet its name suggested that it was a legitimate organic brand.

''If 1 per cent of the product is organic … then that really is greenwashing,'' Ms Culhaci said.

Carla Oates, Biological Farmers of Australia's spokeswoman on cosmetics who also owns her own organic skincare range, said organic manufacturers invested a lot of money in developing their products but had to compete against cheap imitations.

''Regulations are really loose around labelling of cosmetics and I really don't think it is fair,'' she said. ''Manufacturers spend a lot of time and money formulating their products but then they are sold next to something that is much cheaper, which is false marketing because they are not what consumers expect them to be.''

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