Most eco-foodies already know that food labeled organic must be made with at least 95 percent certified organic ingredients. Go to the beauty section of your store, however, and eco-beauty seekers will see the word organic proudly emblazoned on a whole bunch of products — even those that only contain a couple token organic ingredients.

Why the disparity? While the USDA has strict rules about organic claims on food, no such standard exists for beauty and personal care products. That’s why even shampoos and lotions that contain questionable chemicals like parabens can use the word organic in their packaging without getting into trouble. The practice is extremely confusing to shoppers seeking healthy, eco-friendly products — which is why environmental group Organic Consumers Association has been campaigning for tougher personal care product standards for years.

The USDA has yet to take up the issue, but one big natural products retailer is stepping up. Earlier this month, Whole Foods announced that it’s going to demand authenticity in organic labeling from its suppliers. That means personal care products that make organic claims must meet the same certification standards as food and food products.

Come June 11, 2011, Whole Foods customers will have a clearer sense of what they’re buying when they pick up a beauty product with organic claims:

  • If the product says “organic,” then at least 95 percent ingredients will be certified organic.
  • If the product says “made with organic ingredients,” then at least 70 percent of the ingredients will be certified organic AND the remaining 30 percent will be made with safer, approved ingredients allowed by the USDA’s organic certification program.
  • If the product says “contains organic ingredients,” then at least 70 percent of the ingredients will be certified organic, while the other 30 percent will be made with a larger list of ingredients that are allowed by the NSF International Joint Committee on Organic Personal Care.
Since many personal care products companies courting the green market want their products in Whole Foods, the company’s decision will likely force many companies to clean up their packaging claims, making for easier-to-decipher personal care products labeling everywhere.

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