Read the ingredient list before buying personal care products labeled "organic," warned an Oakland environmental group that announced Wednesday it had settled with 11 manufacturers a deceptive-labeling lawsuit.
The Center for Environmental Health lawsuit alleged that 34 manufacturers of shampoo, conditioners, toothpaste and lotion, among other products, were violating a state law requiring that personal care products promoted as "organic" contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients, meaning they were grown without pesticides or chemicals.
On Tuesday, 11 of the manufacturers reached an agreement in Alameda County Superior Court pledging to either meet state standards or to remove the organic labeling. The companies settling include Kiss My Face, At Last Naturals and RenPure.
The 23 companies with pending suits include Hains, Aubrey Organics, Nature's Baby Products and Namaste Laboratories.
The products named in the suit were sold at chains including Target, Walgreens, CVS, Rite Aid and Whole Foods, as well as a few local stores such as Berkeley Bowl.
More consumers turn to such products to support sustainable farming or to reduce their exposure to synthetic chemicals.
Organic labeling on food is well regulated and rarely deceptive, said Charles Margulis, a spokesman for the center. But he said national guidelines for organic labeling of cosmetics and other personal care products "have just been overlooked."
Margulis said that only rarely do manufacturers of personal care products seek third-party organic certification -- the gold standard.
Instead, companies often print on labels their own certification seals, which lack independent verification, Margulis said. "These seals on these products are merely marketing claims made by the companies themselves."
Kiss My Face did not return a call seeking comment, and a Whole Foods spokeswoman said the company declined to comment on the litigation as they aren't named in the suit.
In Margulis' view, retailers have an obligation to make sure personal care products they sell as organic are legitimate.
Margulis said consumers can determine which products are bona fide by reading the ingredient list, as any personal care product promoted in California as organic must list which ingredients are organic.