Answer: Yes. And verifying these requirements is the only way to make sure you’re not falling victim to fraudulent advertising claims when shopping for an organic mattress.
The government agency that controls use of the word “organic” is the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), under Title XXI of the 1990 Farm Bill, otherwise known as The Organic Foods Production Act of 1990.
This Act established national standards governing the marketing of certain agricultural products as organically produced products in order to assure consumers that organically produced products meet a consistent standard and to facilitate fairness within interstate commerce.
USDA control over use of the word “organic” extends to non-edible agricultural crops such as cotton and rubber trees, and further extends to non-edible products derived from livestock, such as wool.
To call any of these raw materials “organic,” each producer must meet the requirements listed in the Act and subject its facility and products to annual audit by a USDA-approved “certifying agent.”
Furthermore, for a complex finished textile product, such as a mattress, to be called organic it must be composed of a minimum of 95% certified raw materials as listed above. Then independently, the company manufacturing the mattress must also meet the requirements as listed in the Act and to subject its facility and finished products to an independent annual textile audit to standards such as GOTS, by a USDA-approved certifying agent.
Therefore, to call a mattress “organic” or to sell it as such, the company producing the mattress must earn independent organic status and be awarded an organic certificate annually in their name. This means that a mattress cannot be called organic simply because it is made up of one, some, or even all organic raw materials. It is the “certifying agent” that substantiates that the organic claim being made is actually true. It must be a USDA-approved certifying agent, who through an audit process can give a company legitimate claim or right to use the term “organic.”
Legislation in the United States established the Federal Trade Commission Act in1914. Under this Act, the Commission is empowered to, among other things, prevent unfair methods of competition and unfair or deceptive consumer acts or representations affecting commerce.
If a company calls its product “organic” and its facility, methods, and specific products have not been awarded organic status by a USDA-approved certifying agent, that claim is deceptive, and constitutes an unfair method of competition in the marketplace. Unfair marketing claims fall under the purview of the FTC.
Specific to environmental claims, the FTC has published the “Green Guide.” While the guide defines a number of environmental terms and correct use and association of logos and seals, the primary emphasis of the document is substantiation. Environmental marketing claims must be substantiated.
Section 5 of the FTC Act prohibits deceptive acts and practices in or affecting commerce. A representation, omission, or practice is deceptive if it is likely to mislead consumers acting reasonably under the circumstances and is material to consumers’ decisions. See FTC Policy Statement on Deception, 103 FTC 174 (1983). To determine if an advertisement is deceptive, marketers must identify all express and implied claims that the advertisement reasonably conveys. Marketers must ensure that all reasonable interpretations of their claims are truthful, not misleading, and supported by a reasonable basis before they make the claims. See FTC Policy Statement Regarding Advertising Substantiation, 104 FTC 839 (1984).
In the context of environmental marketing claims, a reasonable basis often requires competent and reliable scientific evidence. Such evidence consists of tests, analyses, research, or studies that have been conducted and evaluated in an objective manner by qualified persons and are generally accepted in the profession to yield accurate and reliable results. Such evidence should be sufficient in quality and quantity based on standards generally accepted in the relevant scientific fields, when considered in light of the entire body of relevant and reliable scientific evidence, to substantiate that each of the marketing claims is true.
James Kohm is the Associate Director for the Enforcement Division of the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. In that capacity, he oversees enforcement of all consumer protection orders and the Commission’s Green Marketing program. When Mr. Kohm spoke on January 27, 2013 at the World Market Center, he made clear that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) does not define what is or can be called organic. The FTC can conduct investigations relating to the organization, business, practices, and management of entities engaged in commerce and seek monetary redress and other relief for conduct injurious to consumers and other businesses from unsubstantiated environmental claims.
At OMI, we’ve worked hard to establish and maintain a comprehensive organic program. This ensures the creation and assurance of certified organic goods. Testing, quality assurance, lot tracking, purchasing organic raw materials (despite the higher cost), and spending thousands annually on auditing are just a few of the ways in which we keep our rigorous organic program in place. Third-party certification is the only thing protecting us from companies that do none of these things, but would try nevertheless to reap marketing dollars by fraudulently associating the term “organic” with their products.
It does not fall to the consumer or retailer to judge what is or is not organic. For a company to call its products “organic” it must have been granted organic status by a USDA-approved “certifying agent.” The consumer need only confirm a valid certificate with the company’s name and products listed, not a certification showing the name of a grower or producer. At OMI, we’ve covered all the bases, so you can “rest” assured you’re purchasing a TRULY organic mattress.