Site Visit: Small Business Feeling Chagrin at Potential Product Rules
By Prianka Sharma, Assistant Chief Counsel
Upon entering the large warehouse in Solon, Ohio, Advocacy staff were immediately overtaken by the fragrances that filled the room. On Aug. 4, staff visited Chagrin Valley Soap & Salve, an organic skin and hair care manufacturer.
The company was founded in 2001 in the kitchen of Ida Friedman Kasdan. Kasdan was tired of how many chemicals were in her skincare products and decided to start making her own soaps, free of harsh ingredients. Her husband, a wood-worker, built her a wooden mold, and using her kitchen mixer, a spatula and mixing bowls, Kasdan created a batch of organic soaps.
Since then, Kasdan’s business has expanded to a huge warehouse with products being sold online locally and internationally, and in local Whole Foods and Mustard Seed Markets as well as their own storefront in downtown Cleveland.
Chagrin Valley Soap & Salve employs 12 full-time employees, many of whom are family members. In 2010, they became U.S. Department of Agriculture-certified, assuring that all of their products adhere to federal standards for organics. Kasdan stated that despite paying thousands of dollars and spending countless hours of time applying for certification, and maintaining their certification, USDA does not enforce these standards for all products.
Kasdan stated that USDA claims that it wants to level the playing field for companies in the organic personal care products industry; however she stated that a level playing field simply does not exist.
Many companies use the word “organic” in their labeling and marketing even though they are not certified by USDA. This is misleading to consumers who assume the products are organic, when they have not gone through rigorous inspection in order to be certified. Kasdan stated that even though Chagrin Valley’s products are USDA certified, they are not permitted to use the word “organic” because they sell some products that are less than 95 percent organic. They are only permitted to say that their products are “made with organic ingredients.” Kasdan stated that this poses problems to consumers who see other companies claiming to have “organic” soaps and conclude that Chagrin Valley’s products are not completely organic.
Another problem that Chagrin Valley faces is that they are not allowed to petition to add new raw materials to the National List of Allowable and Prohibited Substances. In a memorandum from December 2013, the Deputy Administrator of the National Organic Program stated that in the absence of National Organic Standards Board recommendations, and USDA regulations, the National Organics Program would not accept petitions when the use is limited to personal care products. This means that companies like Chagrin Valley are unable to request that ingredients be reviewed for inclusion in the list.
Staff at Chagrin Valley stated that they feel as though the company is being penalized for wanting to follow the proper channels. USDA does not penalize those companies that falsely advertise themselves as “organic” without proper certification. This creates unfairness for those companies such as Chagrin Valley who do comply with the stringent requirements for certification.
Advocacy staff were intrigued with Kasdan’s story and even got to see her original molds and mixing pots. With many companies unfairly touting themselves as being “organic” and “all natural” it is refreshing to find a company who follows the rules, and strives to create products that meet the rigorous standards for certification. Advocacy is hopeful that USDA will do more to ensure that small family companies, who do comply with the rules, are not unfairly penalized by those companies who choose not to.
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