NSF/ANSI 305 – The “Other” Organic
From the beginning, there was a disconnect between personal care products and National Organic Program (NOP) standards. Mandated in 1990 by the USDA and first taking effect in October of 2002, NOP standards were developed to regulate the production, handling, and labeling of organic products.
The disconnect was a result of the NOP’s focus on food and agriculture, leaving certain products — cosmetic foundations, lipsticks, moisturizers and lotions — out of the loop by disallowing chemical processes required to manufacture them. For products that otherwise met the minimum certification requirement of 70% organic ingredients, not being certified meant the makers of these products couldn’t participate in a booming organic market.
The New Standard
Enter NSF International, an independent public health and safety organization. In 2004, they called together consumer groups, regulatory officials, trade association members and ingredient suppliers to create an organically based set of certification standards that accounted for the specifics of personal care products. In 2009, they completed and released NSF/ANSI 305: Personal Care Products Containing Organic Ingredients.
What are the Standards?
At their most basic, NSF/ANSI 305 standards follow the same guiding principles as the National Organic Program “to protect the environment, avoid the use of toxic ingredients in the manufacture of organic products, and ensure traceability and organic integrity.” As Oregon Tilth, a leading U.S. organic certifier, goes on to say,
“NSF/ANSI 305 products make use of organic agricultural ingredients and non-GMO ingredients, provide assurances that manufacturing and storage is free from contamination or commingling, require quality recordkeeping to ensure traceability of ingredients, and only use environmentally benign processing methods for non-organic ingredients.”
How Standards Are Similar to Organic
To qualify for NSF/ANSI 305 certification, personal skincare products must meet the minimum NOP requirement of 70% organic content by weight. This is the same minimum that makers of organic soap, like Botanie, must meet. (In fact, the “Made with” level of organic certification — from 70-95% organic content — is where organic soap resides.) For products that meet the 70% organic minimum, and don’t violate acceptable practices rules, NSF/ANSI 305 allows a “Contains Organic Ingredients” designation on product labeling and packaging.
How They’re Different
Within its certification, NSF/ANSI 305 allows for limited chemical processes that are typical for personal care products — provided they are environmentally and biologically benign — that are not to be allowed for food products. Processes allowed NSF/ANSI 305 include hydrogenation, hydrolysis, esterification and transesterification. All of these processes can raise questions, but questions don’t automatically diminish the quality of certified products. Like all products we use on our skin, NSF/ANSI 305-certified products require consumer attention and awareness.
Important to Keep in Mind
There will continue to be questions about the relative benefits and drawbacks of NSF/ANSI 305-certification. There have been since the beginning. It’s also true that certain questions about organic certification persist after nearly 20 years.
It’s important to keep in mind that, in addition to specific requirements, there are guiding principles behind organic certification. Many of those principles are in direct opposition to standard commercial manufacturing practice — the use of all-natural ingredients and non-toxic processes to make products that are healthier for consumers and the environment.
As Lorna Badman, senior standards specialist with NSF International explains, these are also the guiding principles behind their personal care standards:
“NSF/ANSI 305 establishes a level playing field by setting requirements for organizations choosing to comply with an American National Standard for personal care products that contain organic ingredients. This is an important step for manufacturers and retailers that produce and sell organic personal care products, as well as for consumers interested in protecting the environment, who choose to purchase certified-organic products.”