Friday, July 18, 2008

2008 FTC Workshop: regulation and certification of organic fibers

On July 15, I attended the 2008 FTC Workshop: Green Building and Textiles in Washington, D.C.; this is the second of a series of reports about the presentations and discussions. (To see all, select blog entries tagged "regulation".)

LaRhea Pepper, an organic cotton farmer from west Texas, represented Organic Exchange. Her presentation focused on trends in the demand for organic fibers (cotton, hemp, linen and wool) and on current and emerging regulation and certification programs. Overall, consumer demand for organic textile products has been rising steadily, especially in clothing for children.

Reasons for choosing organic generally fall into two categories: quality of life issues (allergies and sensitivities to particular products) and lifestyle choices, particularly environmentalism. It's interesting to consider that these motives suggest that the harm done by misleading advertising may not be a simple matter of an annoyed customer who wants to be green and is made a fool. People choosing organic products because of chemical sensitivities or allergies depend on regulations and certifications to protect them and their families.

Pepper pointed out that the agricultural nature of natural fibers means that, since 2002, producers of organic cotton and other fibers are governed by the USDA standards for organic certification. In addition, textile products are covered by several FTC regulations. Still problems exist, as consumers can be confused by the use and misuse of "organic" on a clothing label. The term "organic" can be meaningfully applied to the fibers used, but what about the dyes and finishes? (I wrote about this almost a year ago!)

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