SAN FRANCISCO — An environmental group filed a lawsuit last week against 26 cosmetic companies, claiming they are improperly labeling products such as shampoo, facial washes and soaps as organic.
The Center for Environmental Health said in its lawsuit filed in Alameda County Superior Court that the companies are violating a California labeling law requiring organic products to contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients.
Organic labels connote the natural ingredients used to make the product were grown without pesticides, chemicals and other traditional methods now thought to be unhealthy.
There has been growing confusion and debate over what constitutes organic and a growing number of false labeling lawsuits.
The center previously sued organic heavyweight Hain Celestial Group Inc. in May, claiming its Jason and Avalon Organics brands were mislabeled. Other Hain brands were included in the lawsuit filed last week. A company representative didn't return a call seeking comment.
Legal disputes over organic labeling initially targeted food growers in 2007. The next year, cosmetic products claiming to have organic ingredients were targeted. None of those lawsuits have been resolved.
In the latest action, the Oakland-based center alleges in its lawsuit that popular organic cosmetic companies such as Kiss My Face, Alliance Boots and others violated the California Organic Products Act of 2003, which mandated the 70 percent rule. Neither company returned a phone call.
Executive Director Michael Green said the center purchased dozens of the products earlier this year. He said a simple reading of the ingredients list on the back of many products revealed they fell short of meeting the 70 percent threshold.
"For years, organic advocates have called on personal care companies to fix their improper 'organic' labels, but our recent purchasing shows the industry is still rife with unsubstantiated organic claims," Green said.
The center wants to encourage companies to use organic ingredients, and ensure that consumers can trust organic labels to be meaningful and consistent, he said.
The federal government doesn't have organic labeling rules for cosmetic products. But the U.S. Department of Agriculture approved California standards.