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April 06, 2008

The Definition of Natural


At a webinar presented by Perfumer&Flavorist Magazine last month, there was a discussion of the definition of "natural" when used in the natural products industry, which of course includes the natural aromatic products that are the focus of this blog. The webinar grew out of a similar discussion by natural products retail brand owners and suppliers that was featured in a Special Naturals & Organics issue of "GCI (Global Cosmetics Industry): The Business magazine for the Global Beauty Industry," a sister publication of P&F.

It turns out that the "Natural" Products Industry has not yet agreed upon a definition of what "natural" products are. There is reference in both the Webinar and the article referenced above to an effort to develop a "Natural Personal Care Products Standard" being put together by the Natural Products Association (NPA)and to be discussed at their National Lobbying Day to be held in Washington, DC on April 8.  Unfortunately the NPA didn't get their draft up on their website, so we can't link to the specifics. However, there are other definitions of "Natural" in use.

Burt's Bees has a definition posted on their website that is probably the draft, since the Chair of the NPA committee working on the Standard is from Burt's Bees. The draft requires that products labeled "Natural" must "be made with 95% truly natural ingredients, contain no ingredients with potential suspected human health risks, and use no products that significantly or adversely alter the purity/effect of the natural ingredients." "Natural" is defined as "Ingredients that come from a purposeful, renewable/plentiful source found in nature (flora, fauna, mineral) and using "Processes that are minimal and don't use synthetic/harsh chemicals, or otherwise dilute purity."

The standard goes on to define when non-natural ingredients can be used, and then provides a list of ingredients that should never be used, including (of interest to us because of their use in solvent extraction) Petro Chemicals, and finally to list Processes that should never be used: "Ethoxylation, sulfonation, polymerization and unfavorable varieties of quaternization — Industrial processes using caustic solvents that leave residual compounds and impurities that may end up concealed in the final consumer product."

The draft NCA definition is not the only one out there. The International Association of Natural Product Producers (IANPP) has produced two definitions, one for Natural Ingestible Ingredients and another for Natural Topical Ingredients. They are careful to set these definitions in a context that excludes "considerations such as safety, allergies, toxicity, animal testing, socially responsible packaging and business practices (fair trade, third world projects, responsible use and ingredient disposal, cooperative work environment), respect for endangered species, biodegradability/environmental friendliness, environmentally protective methods of production, etc." These, of course, are important, but in their opinion need to be considered separately from the definition of "natural."

The IANPP definition contains similar elements, but differs from the NCA definition in some significant ways:

  • It doesn't deal with the issue of allowing a percentage of ingredients to not be natural. 
  • It contains a more precise processing limitation: "Any changes to the original natural ingredient must not undergo changes in one or more covalent bonds during manufacturing and/or processing." 
  • It requires that "solvents must be found in nature (originate from plant, animal or inorganic mineral sources) and the processing method must not introduce anything that is not of natural derivation" 
  • It defines synthetic "as a substance not derived from natural sources with biological and/or accepted food processing/handling techniques 
  • It lists acceptable and unacceptable processing methods (of interest to use, the acceptable list includes "cold pressing, ... natural water/alcohol extraction, ... extraction with natural solvents, expeller pressing (oils), steam distillation, [and] supercritical CO2 Extraction...." (ultrasonic extraction is missing from the list). 
  • The unacceptable processing method list contains only two items: Gamma Ray Irradiation and Synthetic solvent extraction. 
  • [I think they've made an error in their web page--under Gamma Ray Irradiation they list two bullets that seem to refer to preservatives], allowing Preservation by thermal, sound, or photochemical methods including microwave, ultrasound, UV, or infrared) but listing nuclear or thermo-nuclear preservative methods as Not Acceptable. 
  • They don't list specific banned chemicals, but instead ban artificial/synthetic "additives, colorings, coloring agents, preservatives, antibiotics, hormones, processing aids, carriers, synthetically derived and/or processed contaminants from packaging, GMO’s or other non-natural ingredients" 
  • Require that ingredients be "Be fully disclosed and documented regarding ingredient derivation and method of processing" 
  • Include the words “preserved with” on the label regarding preservative ingredients.

As mentioned in the GCI article, there are some other definitions of natural that are being used by some companies. These all need to be integrated together with a public discussion of the issues.  The NPA intends to have a discussion, I'm sure, but so far it hasn't been out on the web where the small companies who may not be members of the NPA can access it.

I don't think either of the definitions discussed here are adequate to become the exact definition used by the industry. They use somewhat different approaches, and both contain elements that ought to be included. More discussion is definitely needed.

UPDATE: An attempt to contact the IANPP resulted in a response indicating that the IANPP has turned its project over to the NAP and that there should be some results by the end of this year.

Posted by Rob on April 6, 2008 in Aromatherapy, Perfumery, Regulatory Issues, Standards | Permalink


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haha i never knew such a word could contain so much information regardings its definition :o Good stuff though.

Posted by: Essential Oils | Apr 18, 2008 12:12:39 PM

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