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Beauty Beat: Organic Labeling Debated at Summit

How to bring order to the natural beauty world is a hot topic among industry executives.

PARIS — How to bring order to the natural beauty world is a hot topic among industry executives.

That subject, among others, was debated during the Natural Beauty Summit, held here recently and organized by Beyond Beauty and Organic Monitor.

Horst Rechelbacher, founder of Aveda and Intelligent Nutrients, for one, said the industry needs to create global unity of certification. He believes the 30-odd certification labels existing today on organic and natural beauty products might do more harm than good.

“They’re beautifully designed logos, but I simply haven’t found space on my packaging [for them],” he said. “If the consumer gets confused, labels will become meaningless.”

“The vision should be one — it’s best for consumers; it’s best for manufacturers, for ease of shopping,” added Mike Indursky, chief marketing and strategic officer of Burt’s Bees, who is working with beauty companies in the U.S. to create common standards for cosmetics there. Their goal is to establish U.S. standards in line with Europe’s, he said.

However, it looks unlikely there will be a single logo for Europe, where private certifiers have been working for four years to agree on harmonized standards for natural and organic cosmetics. While representatives of France’s Ecocert, Germany’s BDIH, Italy’s AIAB and the U.K.’s Soil Association have set a June 2008 deadline to harmonize standards within the European Union, they do not plan to create one logo.

Instead, once the standards are agreed upon by those certifiers, they will be presented to others in the European Union. The next step is for such standards to be reviewed by the European Commission.

Once this system is in place, a company could be inspected by Ecocert and then its products would carry both Ecocert’s label and that of another certification body if the company wishes.

While one manufacturer pointed out that labeling has become a business unto itself, the Soil Association argued that companies may not necessarily support a single European label.

“Businesses don’t want to lose their national logo,” said Helen Taylor, the Soil Association’s director of marketing and corporate relations, referring to a recent outcry in the U.K. against plans for a single Europe-wide logo for organic food. She was suggesting that one label for cosmetics might meet with similar opposition.

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While the labeling authorities working to harmonize certification have already agreed on some common ground, such as the need for separate standards for natural and for organic products, and the types of preservatives permitted under their guidelines, other issues are proving more complex. For example, chemically processed natural ingredients are a sticking point, as is the minimum percentage of organic ingredients required for organic certification.

As well as finding a middle ground on content criteria, the fact that there are many other ethical issues to tackle could create further complications. Ecocert, for example, has developed fair trade certification, while the Soil Association is considering excluding airfreighted organic goods from its organic certification. One delegate even called for certification to be further expanded to take locally sourced products into account and suggested another label be created for them.

“We want to respect our local growers,” he said.

Given all of these complications, at least one manufacturer has decided to forgo certifying bodies altogether. When developing its Botanics Organic line, Boots the Chemists created its own label. With 40 different standards in use, introducing a certifier would have led to confusion, explained Stephen Johnson, sustainable development and scientific advisers manager for the U.K. retailer and manufacturer.

However, he lauds harmonization.

“As a retailer, I hate gray areas,” he said. “We need a level playing field.”