Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps Files Lawsuit Against Major ‘Organic’ Cheater Brands

9 05 2008

[re-post for our good friends at Dr. Bronner’s]

Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps Files Lawsuit Against Major ‘Organic’ Cheater Brands

The family owned Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps filed a lawsuit in California Superior Court today against numerous personal care brands to force them to stop making misleading organic labeling claims. Dr. Bronner’s and the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) had warned offending brands that they faced litigation unless they committed to either drop their organic claims or reformulate away from main ingredients made from conventional agricultural and/or petrochemical material without any certified organic material. OCA has played the leading role in exposing and educating consumers about deceptive organic branding.

David Bronner, President of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps says, “We have been deeply disappointed and frustrated by companies in the ‘natural’ personal care space who have been screwing over organic consumers, engaging in misleading organic branding and label call-outs, on products that were not natural in the first place, let alone organic.” Dr. Bronner’s has determined, based on extensive surveys, that organic consumers expect that cleansing ingredients in branded and labeled soaps, shampoos and body washes that are labeled “Organic”, “Organics” or “Made with Organic” will be from organic as distinct from conventional agricultural material, produced without synthetic fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides, and free of petrochemical compounds.

For example: The major cleansing ingredient in Jason “Pure, Natural & Organic” liquid soaps, body washes and shampoos is Sodium Myreth Sulfate, which involves ethoxylating a conventional non-organic fatty chain with the carcinogenic petrochemical Ethylene Oxide, which produces carcinogenic 1,4-Dioxane as a contaminant. The major cleansing ingredient in Avalon “Organics” soaps, bodywashes and shampoos, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, contains conventional non-organic agricultural material combined with the petrochemical Amdiopropyl Betaine. Nature’s Gate “Organics” main cleansers are Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate (ethoxylated) and Cocamidopropyl Betaine. Kiss My Face “Obsessively Organic” cleansers are Olefin Sulfonate (a pure petrochemical) and Cocamidopropyl Betaine. Juice “Organics”, Giovanni “Organic Cosmetics”, Head “Organics”, Desert Essence “Organics”, and Ikove “Organic” all use Cocamdiopropyl Betaine as a main cleansing ingredient and no cleansers made from certified organic material. Due to the petrochemical compounds used to make the ingredient, Cocamidopropyl Betaine is contaminated with traces of Sodium monochloroacetate, Amidoamine (AA), and dimethylaminopropylamine (DMAPA). Amidoamine in particular is suspected of causing skin sensitization and allergic reactions even at very low levels for certain individuals. Organic consumers have a right to expect that the personal care products they purchase with organic branding or label claims, contain cleansing ingredients made from organic agricultural material, not conventional or petrochemical material, and thus have absolutely no petrochemical contaminants that could pose any concern.

Dr. Bronner’s products, in contrast to the brands noted above, contain cleansing and moisturizing ingredients made only from certified organic oils, made without any use of petrochemicals, and contain no petrochemical preservatives. The misleading organic noise created by culprit companies’ branding and labeling practices, interferes with organic consumers ability to distinguish personal care whose main ingredients are in fact made with certified organic, not conventional or petrochemical, material, free of synthetic preservatives. Lawsuit Also Names Estee Lauder, Stella McCartney’s CARE, Ecocert and OASIS

Ecocert is a French-based certifier with a standard that allows not only cleansing ingredients made from conventional versus organic agriculture, but also allows inclusion, in the cleansing ingredients contained in products labeled as “Made with Organic” ingredients, of certain petrochemicals such as Amidopropyl Betaine in Cocamidopropyl Betaine. Even worse, despite Ecocert’s own regulations prohibiting the labeling as “Organic” of a product containing less than 100% organic content, Ecocert in practice engages in “creative misinterpretation” of its own rules in order to accommodate clients engaging in organic mislabeling. For instance, Ecocert certifies the Ikove brand’s cleansing products to contain less than 50% organic content, noted in small text on the back of the product, where all cleansing ingredients are non-organic including Cocamidopropyl Betaine which contains petroleum compounds. Yet the product is labeled “Organic” Amazonian Avocado Bath & Shower Gel. Another instance is Stella McCartney’s “100% Organic” CARE line certified by Ecocert that labels products as “100% Organic” that are not 100% Organic alongside ones that are; the labels of products that are not 100% organic simply insert the word “Active” before “Ingredients.” In allowing such labeling, Ecocert simply ignores the requirements of its own certification standards. Furthermore, the primary organic content in most Ecocert certified products comes from “Flower Waters” in which up to 80% of the “organic” content consists merely of just regular tap water that Ecocert counts as “organic.”

Explicitly relying on the weak Ecocert standard as precedent, the new Organic and Sustainable Industry Standard (“OASIS”)-a standard indeed developed exclusively by certain members of the industry, primarily Estee Lauder, with no consumer input-will permit certification of products outright as “Organic” (rather than as “Made with Organic” ingredients) even if such products contain hydrogenated and sulfated cleansing ingredients such as Sodium Lauryl Sulfate made from conventional agricultural material grown with synthetic fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides, and preserved with synthetic petrochemical preservatives such as Ethylhexylglycerin and Phenoxyethanol. [Reference: OASIS Standard section 6.2 and Anti-Microbial List] The organic content is required to only be 85%, which in water and detergent-based personal care products, means organic water extracts and aloe vera will greenwash conventional synthetic cleansing ingredients and preservatives.

The OASIS standard is not merely useless but deliberately misleading to organic consumers looking for a reliable indicator of true “organic” product integrity in personal care. Organic consumers expect that cleansing ingredients in products labeled “Organic” be made from organic not conventional agriculture, to not be hydrogenated or sulfated, and to be free from synthetic petrochemical preservatives. Surprisingly, companies represented on the OASIS board, such as Hain (Jason “Pure, Natural & Organic”; Avalon “Organics”) and Cosway (Head “Organics”,) produce liquid soap, bodywash and shampoo products with petrochemicals in their cleansers even though use of petrochemicals in this way is not permitted even under the very permissible OASIS standard these companies have themselves developed and endorsed.

Ronnie Cummins, Executive Director of the OCA, said: “The pressure of imminent litigation outlined in cease and desist letters sent by OCA and Dr. Bronner’s in March prompted some serious discussion with some of the offending companies, but ultimately failed to resolve the core issues.”


Eagles vs. Sharks: Thoughts on Surviving a Really Bad Moment

19 03 2008

By Jill Ettinger

Sometimes the worst experiences are also the best. Profound adaptability comes to us in stressful times. Like all things in nature, we face challenges. Usually in these moments, instinct takes over and we are not as helpless as we thought. Or at least, we hope.

I was pondering this during a recent trip to Hawaii. It was my first solo vacation; free to do everything and anything I wanted, whenever I so chose. It seemed no greater opportunity to thrust myself into strange situations. No one around to remind me of any embarrassing moments after they’d passed. No one but myself.

I’ve known for many years that the open sea and my stomach have a very turbulent relationship. I admire the ocean a great deal, even feel a need to live coastal, but I keep a safe distance from its ebbs and flows, especially on a full stomach. (Long story short: don’t eat lunch right before scuba diving.)

So there I was, the north shore of Oahu in March. The ocean is teeming with Humpback whales, a sight not to be missed. As I was researching whale tours, I noticed several area shark cage tours. This caught my eye for several reasons. (1) I am terrified of sharks and (2) I am terrified of sharks. I knew I had to go.

The tours are quite safe. The shark cage sits in the water about two miles off shore. Steel bars enclose human visitors and a Plexiglas front on one side allows the more squeamish (me) to peer out with more comfort. The sharks are Galapagos, which typically stay nearer to the ocean floor, but years of crabbing in the area has trained them to respond to the sound of boats. They hit the surface looking for leftovers from crab fishers and a tourist trap (literally) was born. They pose no real threat to humans, though sticking your finger in their mouth is not recommended.

Occasionally a tiger shark will appear in the mix with the others. They are the breed most common in local surfer attacks. One shark tour a few years ago caught footage of a 21-foot great white – the only Hawaiian great white encounter caught on film.

When no one else volunteered to be first, I felt my hand go up. Might as well get it over with, I thought to myself. I knew there was no real danger. I remember fearing stepping into the early morning cold water more than the sharks. Two people need to go in the cage at the same time (for time restrictions) so another girl accompanied me. We climbed in, holding onto the bars and the boat let out the slack, cage and us in it, drifting.

As lungs took their first breath through the snorkel, eyes gulped in the beast only a few feet beyond the bars. How strange nature is, I thought. To call their eyes beady is unfair, but there is a dull predatory blankness that points at you with every glance. It’s as if they see right through you and not at all both at the same time. I was not afraid.

There were a good dozen of them scattered in every direction, spinning me around the 6-foot enclosure to catch glimpses of them glimpsing me. Then, it hit me. I came up for air and felt the choppiness of the sea. Just the day before I had gone whale watching. I took an anti-seasickness pill to be safe, and it had worked fine. I repeated the dosage that morning before the shark dive, but it was a different ocean than the day before. All I could feel was the even choppier ocean inside of me. The captain suggested that if I was going to get sick that was fine, I should still go under and watch the sharks until I threw up. His words just seemed to charm it right out of me and all of a sudden, the sharks and I were connected in a much deeper way. There are a few of them out there now with a little bit of my breakfast glistening in their sleek fins.

I crawled back into the boat and took respite in a sunny spot on the floor. My eyes sought the stability of the horizon. There are few things worse than feeling completely nauseous. One of them is knowing that you have to feel that way for at least another hour while two more cages drop. The other is realizing that you are the only person on the boat having this reaction, and quite possibly the worst thing: having to listen to the Eagles while you wait for it to end. Glen Fry and Don Henley blared out of the captain’s radio, sounding about as soothing as Celine Dion singing Ethel Merman (heaven forbid). It was, as far as I could tell, the worst possible moment of my life, ever.

My mind raced to recall The Life of Pi, and how Pi used his imagination to survive being stranded at sea. But his might have been a different story if he had been stuck listening to “Desperado.” It was too much. I thought about thrusting myself overboard and letting the sharks tear me to pieces, but then I remembered they aren’t really known for eating humans. I could run over to the radio and call the coast guard. I’d tell them a shark attacked someone and surely they’d hurry. But the thought of taking my eyes off the horizon to walk towards the radio was too big a task. Then suddenly, I felt different. My gut was still wrenching, the boat was still rocking and someone was urging me not to let the sound of my own wheels drive me crazy … but now, I was smiling. A little laugh slipped out between my lips as I realized just how awful this moment was and that I would forever look back on it fondly. It was so bad that it was simply perfect.

While I’ll probably avoid becoming a pirate anytime soon, I continue to enjoy finding those moments that force me to surrender some parts of what I think myself to be. Every once in a while, it’s important to be reminded that we have the opportunity to consciously make choices in this life that may go against our desire to be self-serving. The natural world, as fierce as it can be, is still so fragile. We know this now more than ever. Our choices stand to change the face of nature permanently. Other animals seem to rely solely on their instincts to guide them without sentiment. Well, we’re not sharks (and aside from a few California guys, we’re not the Eagles either). We’re just a bunch of humans being. Being what though, is entirely up to us.

Ain’t That a Trip: Our Water is Drugged

13 03 2008

By Derek Beres

Remember that scenario from the first in the series of Batman remakes, when a pre-Hillary Jack Nicholson nearly killed the population of Gotham by poisoning the water? And remember just a few years ago, when the U.S. government used the same trickery to make its citizens believe that those evil Muslims would kill us all by polluting our water with toxic chemicals? The irony of the situation is that we’ve been the Joker all the while–not to discredit our politicians, of course.

A CNN health report recently revealed the results of a five-month AP study regarding the levels of pharmaceuticals in our drinking water. They found 56 different drugs in the taps of roughly 41 million American homes. Granted, the quantities of each drug are far below medical dose, yet this does nothing to quiet the fact that they are in there in the first place, and that the long-term effects of this are not known.

Talk about the case for being what you eat: Drugs enter our body through our mouths, propelled by the minds that insist we need them. In some cases, we certainly do; in many others, they are superfluous. According to the article, there were 3.7 billion drug prescriptions written over the past five years, to coincide with the 3.3 billion non-prescription drug treatments. Put that into perspective. In a nation of 301 million people, there have been 7 billion drug treatments used in a half-decade. And this says nothing about the majority of antibiotics, which are used on livestock, and also travel the same path back to our streams, lakes and aquifers.

Read the full article on the Huffington Post.

Back to the Bottle

11 03 2008

By Jill Ettinger

Twenty-four American cities (as investigated by the AP) revealed that municipal drinking water tested positive for a number of medications, from antibiotics to heart medication. While the levels detected appear far below those of what is considered to be medical dosage, no one really knows the effects of long-term exposure, or how these random-residual cocktails interact in humans or wildlife.

Or, maybe the answer has been right in front of us all along.

We try hard in America. We may grit our teeth and smile at an administration that has been lying to its constituents from day one, but we hang on to that precious American Dream. We believe we have an inherent freedom on this soil, even though most of have no idea what true freedom really means.

We buy into a collective illusion of “living the good life” as dictated on car commercials and by credit card companies. We sit back and watch our children’s bodies morph into high-fructose-corn-syrup-trans-fat-sludge-balls. Heck, let’s be real about it, many parents willingly numb their children with sugar and junk food just to make their own lives more bearable. It’s easier to let the marketing prowess of Coca Cola and McDonald’s win than fight an eight-year-old over eating spinach. Yes, how free we are, America.

All the while as we sit back and enjoy disconnected lives, we thank the heavens above that at least we have our health. Or, more accurately, our health care system. We justify their impulse to keep us hooked on drugs for questionable conditions. We ignore the fact that hospital-borne illnesses and accidents kill more people than most other causes combined. (Currently doctor- and hospital-caused errors account for the third-highest amount of deaths in America, behind heart disease and cancer.)

Around the world, America is hated and laughed at. Our government has corrupted our image so obtusely that individual character and personality is a distant second to our unfortunate designation as gas-guzzling, war-supporting sycophants. While it may be depressing to think about being so hated for reasons based on a collective impression rather than our own fortitude, it’s also easy to forget about the rest of the world. We are insulated, wallowing in our stars and stripes all the way to the shopping mall.

If you are wondering what all my ranting about America’s ersatz freedom and negative image has to do with pharmaceutical contamination, then maybe you’re drinking too much tap water. Maybe things really are as bad as they seem. That doesn’t mean they can’t or won’t change, but let’s stop pretending we’re safe. Let’s stop pretending that an anti-abortion president who has been killing thousands of his own barely-adult men and women in a war for oil and money is true to his people. That’s not saying he’s responsible for such atrocities as unsafe drinking water, but he certainly is perpetuating it. And in all likelihood, so will the next administration, Democratic or otherwise. Why? Because people are subdued. And when we’re serving the few, the proud, the filthy rich, we’re rewarded with employee picnics and Fourth of July firework displays. There’s your freedom America.

Just look at how they have us playing right into the pharm-tap. Concerns over unclean and extra-fluoridated water sent people to purer sources a la plastique-bottles. It may have cost more and caused more waste, but at least we knew it was cleaner than what was coming out of the tap. Enter the greenwashing hypocrisy of the last eighteen months and the tap was back. So we traded in our bottled water for organic sheets and a Prius. Strange how we seem to find the answer to protecting our environment and living a more sustainable life in buying more stuff.

In theory, the tap is just about the best invention ever: Water in our homes, in multiple rooms no less, at our absolute convenience. Believe it or not, there are still people in this world walking for miles to fill dirty buckets with questionably pure water. And when I say “questionably pure,” I mean that it may or may not kill you. Our water just puts you in a nice funky subservient haze. (Actually, kind of like a“living dead” state.)

Sure the body is resilient and adaptable. So are pharmaceuticals. It’s kind of like one of those unsolved mysteries. What will happen to humans that continue to drink drugged water? As this contamination has likely been going for several decades, it seems the answer is incredibly obvious.

Should we not drink the water? Now that’s unrealistic. We still shower in it anyway, absorbing its invisible stronghold through our skin. Sure drinking cleaner sources will reduce our exposure to pharmaceuticals, but many bottled waters are just glorified purified tap water. And according to the investigation, the purification process does not eliminate the drugs.

It seems as if it’s time for radical evolution. If our water is drugged, then the food grown with it is drugged too. It’s the moisture in the air we breathe. It’s spilling into our oceans and rivers.  I’ve never noticed it before, but doesn’t earth kind of look like a giant blue pill?

So either the human will and inherent need for freedom can muster enough strength and adaptability to push out through the oppressive inebriants, or we’ll just numb out even more.  I guess it’s nice that we still have options.

Fate of a Different Kind

28 02 2008

By Jill Ettinger

The world does not need to be saved.

Earth is not in any immediate danger of disintegrating, falling into a black hole, or even being taken over by planet-eating aliens. The future of the human race (and all terrestrial creatures) is however, another story altogether.

As far as science can tell, the planets, moons and stars in our galaxy have been around longer than the human mind can rightfully perceive. Artifacts buried in ancient rock molecules and riverbeds leave hints of a planet eons before our time, but the precise truth is still a great mystery. However, we’ve come to a shared belief about the history and timeline of the Earth, even though its origins are constantly debated. Religion commingles with relics, carving out convenient stories of divination, positing the Earth as a waiting room for Heaven, or in some cases, Hell.

The human race has carried on this way since standing upright – pockets of people all around the planet diving head first into beliefs, faiths and dogma. Ghosts and spirits are dismissed as irrational hallucinations of the unfortunate and mentally unstable, while the majority of the planet submits to arbitrary Godheads conjectured thousands of years ago but still unverified.

Perhaps we’ve somehow jinxed ourselves, making communion impossible at the present time. This is highly possible if one subscribes to the tenets of most religions, where our sinful ways have led us into a time of darkness. According to them, planetary imbalances are not brought about by lack of stewardship and neglect, but rather the acts of a wrathful God.

Whatever the source of our plight is, real warnings are visible. Yet we continue to hypothesize about the “world” being in danger when the planet itself shows no signs of jeopardy. Its track record is virtually flawless – surviving millennia of transitions without falling out of orbit, losing any mass, maintaining its moon and so on. Our brief blip on the timeline however has been mostly traumatic if one is to judge our species by the effects we’ve had on other species, ecosystems and each other. Individual joy certainly exists, but as a whole our positive contributions are questionable.

While certain species tend to appear more complicated than others, all life is series of complex intricacies. Even those seemingly inanimate earth-bound objects are all part of this planet, which is intrinsically alive. If we were to view earth as a person, maybe then we begin to see how all parts work synergistically and why death – even extinction – is a necessary function for survival. Think of baby teeth, clipping fingernails, going to the bathroom and menstrual cycles. These are not viruses or diseases, but parts of our being that no longer serve the whole, or that need regeneration. And like viruses and diseases, when things are not in service to the organism, it consciously or unconsciously finds a way to remove them. This then raises the question: Are humans akin to baby teeth or a deadly virus? Regardless which description is more accurate, one thing is quite clear: we seem to be on our way out.

That we have doubled the planet’s population in forty years is quite unbelievable, but truth it is. We’re pacing ourselves to add another three billion in the next forty. Already we’re at an unsustainable number, with millions dying of starvation and treatable diseases every year. Half of the world lives in impoverished conditions, on less than $2 a day while fortunate westerners press on, many with savior complexes trying to solve all the world’s “problems” in manners one could also label as arrogant.

In the United States, countless families live paycheck to paycheck while employers fly private jets, own multiple homes, yachts, Rolls Royce’s and the like while trimming employee benefits. To each his own is a well-fitting perspective, though a lion that greedily kills all prey in the jungle will soon meet a harsh fate.

Whether lion or prey, we’re all interconnected in this upright ecosystem-in-danger. Our threatened survival is no longer unavoidable, yet still the urge remains to externalize the situation to the “earth’s problems” and not necessarily our own. Certainly the problem is on the large-side of reckoning with, which can certainly cause knee-jerk reactions and fear, but chances of the answers lying somewhere in more Cadillacs or celebrity perfumes seems unlikely.

Likewise the recent move towards mainstream greenwashing is already losing  power, washing into the fabric of our marketing security-blanket (like John Stewart announcing the Oscars were “going green” because celebrities were * walking * all the way to the podiums). One too many calls from the recycling bin leave a country full of the all too familiar excuse (and perhaps famous last words): “Someone else will do it.”

So it may be god or the devil or just plain bad management of resources that have put us in this situation. No matter, really. Perhaps we’ve been going about it all wrong. Maybe the real victory isn’t in saving anything. Maybe it’s in being amongst the last of a species like no other the Earth has ever known.

The Wasted Years

20 02 2008

By Jill Ettinger

Our enormously productive economy…demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction, in consumption…we need things consumed, burned up, replaced and discarded at an ever-accelerating rate.” – Victor LeBeau, Retail Analyst Post WW II

Circling the web like a good Mom rounding up kids for school, the Story of Stuff’s viral message is affectionately startling, gently nudging us to wake up to some very large elephants quickly filling up the room. Viewed over 1.5 million times, Annie Leonard’s matter-of-fact practical approach appeals to a child-like mentality, important for both the children inheriting this messy situation and the deer-in-headlights-National-Enquirer-population still obsessed with making it. Leonard’s no ordinary Mom though; she is Coordinator of the Funders Workgroup for Sustainable Production and Consumption, working for two decades to raise awareness about international sustainability and environmental health issues.

Her point is simple and straightforward: the world economy follows a straight-line growth model based on planned obsolescence, while the world itself prefers to work in a circular symbiotic relationship. Because of the causal bond marketing has with our spending habits, in just fifty years, America (and most Western cultures) has doubled consumption rates. Leonard walks us through the process from extraction of natural resources to production and distribution and finally to consumption and disposal of the accumulation of all these products (all while our government, supposedly for the people, sits back and takes direction from corporate interests). Some of the more incredible facts she’s collated:

• 80% of the world’s forests are gone.
• 2000 trees a minute are cut down in the Amazon alone. That is 7 football fields a minute!
• The U.S. has less than 4% of its forests left.
• 40% of our waterways are undrinkable.
• The U.S. has 5% of the world’s population and 30% of the waste.
• 75% of global fisheries have been fished beyond capacity.
• 100,000 synthetic chemicals are used in production today.
• Bromated Flame Retardants (BFR) neurotoxins (toxins to brain) are in computers, mattresses, pillows.
• Food with highest level of contaminants is mother’s milk.
• 200,000 people a day are moving to cities from environments that no longer support them.
• U.S. industry *admits* to 4 billion pounds of toxic pollution released per year (likely far more).
• We see more ads in one year than people 50 years ago saw in a lifetime. 3,000 ads a day!
• Average house size has doubled in the U.S. since the 1970’s.
• Average American creates 4.5 lbs. garbage a day — an amount doubled from 30 years ago.
• For every one garbage can you put out at the curb, 70 cans were filled by all the processes needed in order to make it.
• 99% of all those things we buy are not in use after 6 months.

To read the full column on Reality Sandwich click here.

The Grass Grows Us

15 02 2008

Michael Pollan’s presentation at the 2007 TED conference continues the illuminating work of his book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma. In both his writings and speeches, Pollan reminds us that all is not what is always seems – that the ubiquitous “organic” label can be just as misleading as any other mass-produced foodstuff – and that to create a truly sustainable agricultural and food production model, we need to rely on the single most powerful energy: the sun. It is, Pollan concludes, easier than we think; we only need to change some long-standing and direly bad habits. Watch the video here.