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Recent USDA Memo Affects "Organic" Designation For Mattress Products

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On Thursday, May 20, the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Organic Program (NOP) issued a memo providing clear guidance on using the term ‘organic’ to market products in the United States, an update to NOP’s previous requirements.
The new memo, as well as a recently concluded USDA investigation of a bedding retailer, prompted the Specialty Sleep Association’s (SSA) president Dale Read to issue the following statement urging bedding manufacturers and retailers that are making ‘organic’ product claims to focus on compliance now, in order to avoid U.S. government issued penalties, including steep fines.
“The NOP’s new policy memo is one of several dictates recently issued from U.S. government agencies, including the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), that affect how bedding products may be marketed to consumers now and going forward,” Read said. “The SSA Environmental and Safety seal and tag program should be viewed as a tool-kit for mattress manufacturers eager to streamline the process of substantiating product claims, because much of the work has already been done for them.”
In a recent complaint case that investigated consumer-facing advertising claims of ‘USDA organic mattresses’ for sale (NOPC-107-10, resolved 4-4-11), one bedding retailer was warned that future violations of NOP regulations could result in civil penalties of up to $11,000 per violation.
The product in question contained organic cotton fiber, but because the USDA NOP standards are used to certify only crops and livestock, claiming a USDA organic certification for a finished product, like a mattress, is a violation.
“Guidance on marketing organic ingredients versus finished products has not always been clear,” according to Vicki Worden, president, Worden Associates, Inc., an environmental consulting firm to companies and not-for-profit organizations, including the SSA.  “The new policy memo tells marketers how they can and cannot use the word organic.  For finished products, like mattresses, it clearly indicates that a USDA claim is not allowed.”
Read further noted, “The SSA created its Environmental and Safety seal and tag program to create transparency for consumers and to help keep government away from manufacturers’ and retailers’ doors.  This recent complaint and subsequent communication from the USDA only underscores the need for manufacturers and retailers to not wait a second longer to evaluate their practices.”
The SSA’s three-level Environmental and Safety seal and tag program was created last year and has helped manufacturers by creating a roadmap for communicating environmental attributes and properly documenting their proof.
Environmental and safety requirements associated with the three levels of the SSA’s program rely on established third-party programs such as Oeko-Tex® Standard 100, Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), and CertiPUR-US®. Certifications achieved through these programs are recognized by SSA as proof of compliance with specific criteria in the SSA program along with other proof of verification from reputable testing facilities. A requirement to provide a Consumer Disclosure Label that indicates percentages of materials that must correspond to marketing claims creates the essential transparency recommended by many standards.
A next step in SSA’s efforts includes developing RSA and consumer education, to help consumers identify and compare products with environmental, health and safety benefits at the point of sale.
To that end, the SSA has also started an Environmental Blog at
www.sleepinformation.org where manufacturers, retailers, and consumers can find a series of blogs entitled, “Is there really an organic mattress” and other posts, including an overview of the newly proposed revisions to the FTC’s Green Guides, which dictate how environmental terms may be used in marketing. SSA intends to continue reporting in its blog on reactions to the USDA memo, as well as track other developments that impact the design and marketing of bedding, such as developments related to fire retardants.
“We believe consumers want bedding products with environmental and safety benefits, and research shows that many are willing to pay more for them,” said Read. “The SSA is well positioned to help companies substantiate and communicate product claims in a way that will be beneficial to both consumers and to the industry at large.”
For details regarding SSA Environmental and Safety certification levels I, II, and III, or other information regarding the SSA, please visit
www.sleepinformatoin.org, or contact Executive Director Tambra Jones at tambra@sleepinformation.org, 559-868-4187, 559-676-8639

About SSA: Founded in 1995, the Specialty Sleep Association (SSA) is a national, not-for-profit organization created to facilitate the growth and positive awareness of the specialty sleep category. Its members develop or sell specialty sleep products including natural/biobased and organic bedding, latex, memory foam, air, gel, water, adjustable, new spring technologies and related products. SSA membership includes more than 100 manufacturers and retailers ranging from small, family-owned businesses to large corporations. SSA has showroom in Las Vegas and High Point.


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