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Organic product labeling clarifications affect bedding industry
May '11
On Thursday, May 20, the United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA) National Organic Program (NOP) issued a memo providing clear guidance on using the term 'organic' to market products in the United States, an update to NOP's previous requirements.

The new memo, as well as a recently concluded USDA investigation of a bedding retailer, prompted the Specialty Sleep Association's (SSA) president Dale Read to issue the following statement urging bedding manufacturers and retailers that are making 'organic' product claims to focus on compliance now, in order to avoid U.S. government issued penalties, including steep fines.

“The NOP's new policy memo is one of several dictates recently issued from U.S. government agencies, including the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), that affect how bedding products may be marketed to consumers now and going forward,” Read said. “The SSA Environmental and Safety seal and tag program should be viewed as a tool-kit for mattress manufacturers eager to streamline the process of substantiating product claims, because much of the work has already been done for them.”

In a recent complaint case that investigated consumer-facing advertising claims of 'USDA organic mattresses' for sale (NOPC-107-10, resolved 4-4-11), one bedding retailer was warned that future violations of NOP regulations could result in civil penalties of up to $11,000 per violation.

The product in question contained organic cotton fiber, but because the USDA NOP standards are used to certify only crops and livestock, claiming a USDA organic certification for a finished product, like a mattress, is a violation.

“Guidance on marketing organic ingredients versus finished products has not always been clear,” according to Vicki Worden, president, Worden Associates, Inc., an environmental consulting firm to companies and not-for-profit organizations, including the SSA. “The new policy memo tells marketers how they can and cannot use the word organic. For finished products, like mattresses, it clearly indicates that a USDA claim is not allowed.”

Read further noted, “The SSA created its Environmental and Safety seal and tag program to create transparency for consumers and to help keep government away from manufacturers' and retailers' doors. This recent complaint and subsequent communication from the USDA only underscores the need for manufacturers and retailers to not wait a second longer to evaluate their practices.”

The SSA's three-level Environmental and Safety seal and tag program was created last year and has helped manufacturers by creating a roadmap for communicating environmental attributes and properly documenting their proof.

Environmental and safety requirements associated with the three levels of the SSA's program rely on established third-party programs such as Oeko-Tex Standard 100, Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), and CertiPUR-US. Certifications achieved through these programs are recognized by SSA as proof of compliance with specific criteria in the SSA program along with other proof of verification from reputable testing facilities. A requirement to provide a Consumer Disclosure Label that indicates percentages of materials that must correspond to marketing claims creates the essential transparency recommended by many standards.

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