Keep Reading Those Labels

I know I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ve just seen another perfect example of why it is so important to read all of the labels on the products we buy. This image was sent to us by a concerned consumer, who found the product in a local store. The soap in this bottle of “Dr. Organics Pure Castile Soap” is not organic.

Without even looking at the ingredient list, I can tell you this for certain.

Here’s what’s missing:
· The USDA organic sealUSDA Organic Seal
· An actual claim that the product itself is organic
· Evidence of third-party certification, required for an organic claim

There is a very misleading tagline beneath the product name which says, “A natural all-purpose liquid soap with organics and essential oils.” It doesn’t say the soap is organic. It doesn’t say the essential oils are organic. And just what are “organics?” Read on.

Looking at the ingredient list verifies all this: water, saponified coconut, hemp & olive oils with retained glycerin, vitamin E oil (tocopheryl acetate), peppermint oil, sea salt, citric acid, rosemary (Rosmarinus Officinalis) extract. In light of this list which contains no organic ingredients, I’d imagine that the word “organics” in the tagline is supposed to mean that some of the ingredients are carbon compounds, which is another definition of the word “organic,” as opposed to “inorganic,” or non-carbon compounds. Is that the first thing that came to your mind when you read “organics” on a soap label? Of course not. You think no pesticides, good farming practices, and all that.

Yes. Be outraged! Someone should do something about this!

Well, yes, someone should do something. And that someone is you. And me. And every other consumer. Don’t buy it.

Although Dr. Organics would probably say that they never claimed their Pure Castile Soap is organic, they are clearly marketing towards the distracted shopper – the shopper who hasn’t learned the subtle nuances of the game, the shopper who doesn’t have the time to read the label and who doesn’t know what to look for if they did. No one buys this soap because they think it’s conventional. They buy this soap because they think it’s somehow better than conventional. But it’s not.

There are several ways to tackle this sort of thing, both grassroots and more sophisticated. My brother, David Bronner, spends a lot of money, time and effort fighting the legal battle over labeling laws.

But businesses wouldn’t use these misleading labels if it weren’t profitable. If the bulk of consumers would wise up and see that they’re being played for a fool, these companies would lose their incentive. At the moment, they’re being rewarded for their deception by sales. And so in addition to the ongoing fight in courts over misleading labels, let’s fight at the store level as well.

There is somewhat of an irony here because other than not being organic, there is nothing wrong with the ingredients in this product. There are no detergents or artificial fragrances or possibly carcinogenic compounds. On that score, it’s pretty good. But it still is going after the organic market while not being organic.

Now, I’m not taking aim at this product because I’m afraid it’s going to cut into Dr. Bronner’s sales. That’s really not a concern here. We could be talking about any company who, by putting the word “organic” in its company name, implies that they sell an exclusively organic product line.

So, read, and read some more. Don’t assume. Keep learning. Ask questions.

15 thoughts on “Keep Reading Those Labels

  1. Thank you for this. I was about to buy this product then decided to do research.

  2. Good post.

    Ive often been confused of the difference between natural and organic…but Im getting the hang of it. When I cant afford organic personal care products, I do at least use something with all natural ingredients and no synthetic chemicals in the ingredients.

    With that all said, I have a question. With regards to some of the castile soaps…what makes the fragrance in them natural?

    I ask because the Hemp Almond soap gets a good score on the EWG database…but they score the fragrance as an 8. Im assuming the database is failing to make a distinction between natural and synthetic.

  3. Hi Magnoliasouth – I agree. It’s very confusing to take a pre-existing word and attach all these new definitions and connotations. Now there’s the confusion about inorganic (which means non-plant based, like salt or water) and non-organic (which means conventionally grown). If you’re words catch on, I’ll back you up!

    All the best,

  4. This is precisely one of the reasons why I’ve never liked the term “organic” for farming practices because that’s actually incorrect. I’m not saying I disagree with the philosophy, mind you, I’m just saying that another term should have been coined. Anything living is organic. You can twist that around to mean a thousand other things. This I saw coming and I expect to see it for a long time in the future.

    There needs to be a completely new term that has only a single definition. Something like Plaganics or Orgamonics. With its own word, there will never be any confusion.

  5. Love the Baby Mild and Almond castille soaps, they are amazing…so glad I found them in a local grocery stores – whose natural section does not come up very “green” in my books! I also use the baby mild in my own baby wipe solution!! Kepp up the great work Bronner’s!

  6. In addition to the rampant dishonesty out there, and the fact that places like Whole Foods and the local hippie store sells any kind of stuff that is labeled “organic”, what makes me crazy is when these false purveyors steal the Dr. Bronner’s bottle shape and graphic design motifs and wording to sell their products. They are piggy backing off of the goodwill that has built up around the Dr. Bronner’s product line and imitating it. Because I’m sure, if Dr Bronner’s came along after these products, they would sue Dr. Bronners for copyright infringement and etc.

  7. Lisa, stories like this are so aggravating and I’m glad you addressed such false advertising. It ired me enough to send them an email and I thought the reply might interest you. I enjoy your blog, and thanks. Here’s the response verbatim:

    “Sorry for not being able to reply earlier as had been travelling. Anyways reg your question please not that the ingredients used in our soap are not Organic. We do not claim them to be organic either. They are natural but not organic. We are in the process of changing certain ingredients from Natural to Organic very soon which we will mention on the label accordingly.
    Please feel free to get in touch for any further clarifications.
    Thanks and have a great day ahead.

  8. Thanks, everyone, for reading!

    @ Kathleen – I love questions! I’m glad you shared yours. I agree completely that you have to beware of fads and trends, sorting out ones that are founded on legitimate, substantive principles, and others that are just fluff out to make a buck. And then, even the legitimate ones get bogged down by pretenders. A lot of the terms you cite relate to the egg industry – there’s a swamp to wade through. So many of those terms mean nothing, but don’t they sound good!

    As far as labeling laws, though, “organic” has been protected by the USDA. While it always means “carbon compound”, there are very rigid standards for applying this word to products or ingredients. These standards have to do with pesticide use, good farming practices (crop rotation, sustainability, etc.)

    The next question, then, is, “Does organic vs. non-organic matter?” Now there’s a hot topic. As far as this Dr. Organics soap goes, since the ingredients are so similar to Dr. Bronner’s (in which all carbon compound ingredients are organic), it would be interesting to see what the pesticide content is. But looking further back into the production, what do the farms look like where the ingredients are grown? What environmental impacts are the organic vs. non-organic farms making?

    With the natural (and I use that term loosely) industry booming, many are jumping on the bandwagon. Every year at the trade shows and consumer expos, there is a new “latest and best” product or ingredient, so many of which are gone by the next year. Even “organic” has its limitations. My kids showed me at the last trade show, you can eat entirely organic food and still eat only junk – organic soda, organic chips, organic snack bars, organic gummy treats. However, the word still has a good purpose and has staying power. It’s a good one to keep in mind.

    @ Everyone – If you come across claims or terminology that may or may not be meaningful, post them up here and we’ll have a go at determining their worth.


  9. What jerky people those guys are! Not organic AND knock off Dr.Bronner’s! That’s so weak! Booo Dr. Organic’s… I feel dirty even typing the name! Yick!

  10. From the USDA:

    “Any cosmetic, body care product, or personal care product that does not meet the production, handling, processing, labeling, and certification standards described above, may not state, imply, or convey in any way that the product is USDA-certified organic or meets the USDA organic standards.”

    Calling this product “organic” in the company name certainly is implying it is organic…so breaks Federal Law!

  11. I read bottles, labels and websites and I always thing of organic in terms of carbon compounds v non-carbon compounds. Good farming practices and fair trade are all important but I am educated enough to think through the process of buying products that will serve my life completely and not just appeal to the fab and fashion of the “only organic” soapbox.

    While I understand the point of the article was to expose what is considered false advertising, was there anything inherently unhealthy about using this product? Would one be exposed to some danger by washing with this soap, or cleaning with it?

    Sometimes you are preaching to the choir and everyone chimes in. Other times you find listener with deeper questions. I prefer a fuller explanation than “only buy products with this labeling.”

    Finally, companies are marketing to the hype. Organic, fresh, cage-free, handmade, fair trade, heirloom, local, hormone free, NO gluten, soy, carbs, fat, sugar, artificial sweetener, calories, or thought required. If we are to be informed consumers the questions will must extend across the board.

    Thank you for your attention.

  12. Honestly as far as I’m concerned, for the past 14 years, I have used Bronner’s exclusively so I don’t have much of an issue with fakes but I do understand why people would. The only way to know whats in your products is to know what’s in your products. A good rule is if a company is to ashamed to say exactly what is in there products, and use odd terminology, it’s a safe bet that you wouldn’t want to use said product. especially if it’s something you put on or in your body. I know a lot of people may think Bronner’s is experience but for the amount you need per cleaning instance and the quality you get is amazing. Given I don’t know why I’m even commenting I just thought it might help a bit to clarify more and give my opinion.
    lastly, Thanks Bronner’s for making the only soap I have and will ever use you are all amazing people and an amazing company. I would do love to work or help you guys out in some way. for now I can just say I will always use your products.

  13. This was article was both a very good eye-opener & informational. Thank you so much! I really try to be good and read the information on the items I am purchasing-but now I know I should do so more often & with more attentiveness.


  14. thanks for posting this! a lot of people see some variation of the word “organic” in a name and automatically believe that the product IS organic. this is good information that the public needs to be aware about.

  15. this is a really good example at one end of the scale of false organic claims…you are right – the ingredient list is pretty good – just not ‘organic’ as most consumers would understand the word to mean. with blogs like yours, people will continue to become more informed. thanks Lisa.

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