« April 2008 | Main | June 2008 »

May 18, 2008

Book Review: Medicinal and Aromatic Crops

Medicinal and Aromatic Crops: Harvesting, Drying and Processing Edited by Serdar Oztekin and Milan Martinov. Haworth Press: New York. 2007. ISBN 978-1-56022-975-9.

This book was published in 2007, but we recently obtained a copy for our library and realized that it should be in the library, or on the work desk, of anyone who is involved in the production or processing of medicinal or aromatic plants (acronymized in the book as MAP), or even those who have a curiosity about where essential oils come from or how they are or can be produced.

The book starts out with an excellent introduction to the issues involved in aromatic plant production and sustainability as the agricultural system changes from the previous norm of wildcrafted MAP to the more complicated processes of cultivation and the problems of assuring quality, purity, and safety with the transition from Good Wildcrafting Practices (GWP) to Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) which are often unknown to the farmers. There is a good discussion of related environmental issues. One shortfall is that there is no discussion of organic production.

The focus of the book is on mechanization, which the editors claim is generally neglected in the literature and in practice for a variety of reasons, but which should be considered not only to improve production quality  but to improve working conditions for workers. Manual and semi-mechanized methods are not neglected, and renewable energy sources are discussed.

The chapter on Extraction gives a good overview of all the processes commonly used for aromatic plants. The discussion of distillation is illustrated by a thorough description of the production of Turkish rose oil.

A chapter on Industrial Utilization of MAP unfortunately relegates Cosmetics, Perfumery, and Aromatherapy to four paragraphs, with Aromatherapy in a single (short) paragraph, hardly doing justice to the usage.

The book closes with a chapter covering the management of MAP agricultural enterprises and an Appendix discussing a software program that has been developed to assist farmers in the decision making process.

The book is well illustrated with photos and drawings, unfortunately in black and white, and is extensively referenced and well indexed.

Posted by Rob on May 18, 2008 in Book/Movie Reviews, Ecological/Cultural Sustainability, Essential Oils/Plant Extractions, Oil Crops, Regulatory Issues | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 12, 2008

Organic/Natural Standards to be Discussed at Upcoming Meeting

The big players in the Beauty Products World are gathering together in New York later this week at "The Natural Beauty Summit" to "create a forum to learn and discuss the key challenges the cosmetics industry faces in the areas of natural and organic products as well as sustainability" . . . or so says the program for the conference, to be held at the Hilton Hotel in New York City May 15-17. This is a followon to a similar summit in Paris last November, to be followed by a sequel, again in Paris, in October 2008.

Sponsored by Organic Monitor and Beyond Beauty Paris, the main focus of this conference will be Natural Cosmetics with a major session on Standard & Regulatory Issues followed by a panel discussion, and the next day a Natural Cosmetics Workshop focusing on "an assessment of the growing number of standards and certifications for natural and organic cosmetics . . . [with] a critical review of the major standards, comparing and contrasting the similarities and differences between them."

The list of standards and proposed standards that will be covered at the session is:

  • A Retail products standard proposed by Whole Foods
  • the USDA National Organic Program Standard applied to Cosmetics
  • the American NSF Standard
  • the OASIS Standard
  • A review of European natural and organic standards harmonization

The aromaconnection blog will be following these issues closely as they develop.  Notably missing from the above list is the NPA (Natural Products Association) standard we blogged about yesterday and last month. We are working on a table showing details of the standards and comparing their features.  In fact, we are probably duplicating what may show up in the proceedings of the NBS (if there are any), but we hope to get it into print sooner.

Organic Monitor, one of the co-sponsors of the NBS, predicts that 2008 will be the beginning of "an industry shake-up" as various standards are unveiled in Europe and North America. In this linked article, they reference several standards that are not included on the list above. They also express concern about fragmentation that could lead to a reduction of trade, but express also the "more optimistic view" that Cosmetics might follow the lead of the textile industry and develop a harmonized global standard.

In the meantime the infighting has already begun. OCA and Dr. Bronner's have challenged what they call "weak" ECOCERT and OASIS standards, according to this OCA Press Release widely reported in the media mid-March. And as we reported yesterday, the C.A.M. Report is somewhat skeptical of the whole idea.

We can probably look forward to an exciting year!

Posted by Rob on May 12, 2008 in Marketing, Organizations, Politics, Regulatory Issues, Standards, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 11, 2008

Natural Products Association Rushes ahead with a "Natural" Product Standard

Without allowing much time for industry review and feedback, the Natural Products Association has moved to implement their "Standard and Certification for Personal Care Products." As discussed previously on this blog, a meeting was held to discuss this standard in early April, and based on our research online we suggested that more work was needed to integrate standards.  The NPA has moved ahead and published what they describe as an "initial standard" on their website, and is setting up a seal of approval and a process for certification. The standard is intended to encompass "all cosmetic personal care products regulated and defined by FDA."

In my opinion, this is a preemptive move on the part of the NPA to seize the initiative in establishing a standard, without following the usual process for standards development. The international Standards Association (ISO), which is the authoritative international standards body, develops industry wide, voluntary standards based on a consensus of all interested parties. They suggest three main phases in the standards development process:

    1. The need for a standard is usually expressed by an industry sector, which communicates this need to a national member body. The latter proposes the new work item to ISO as a whole. Once the need for an International Standard has been recognized and formally agreed, the first phase involves definition of the technical scope of the future standard. This phase is usually carried out in working groups which comprise technical experts from countries interested in the subject matter. 
    2. Once agreement has been reached on which technical aspects are to be covered in the standard, a second phase is entered during which countries negotiate the detailed specifications within the standard. This is the consensus-building phase. 
    3. The final phase comprises the formal approval of the resulting draft International Standard (the acceptance criteria stipulate approval by two-thirds of the ISO members that have participated actively in the standards development process, and approval by 75% of all members that vote), following which the agreed text is published as an ISO International Standard.

Of course here we are not yet proposing an International Standard. The NPA is an industry sector, that has recognized a need for a standard. But that is where the process has broken down. There has been no public consensus building process, I haven't seen the establishment of a working group of technical experts, and even though the ISO suggests the publication of interim standards (which is what they are calling the current attempt).

The C.A.M. report takes a very skeptical attitude towards the NPA seal, essentially accusing the NPA of producing a marketing gimmick.  He appears to have gotten his information from the press release and not the detailed standard, but who am I to argue with him?  He's probably right.

Posted by Rob on May 11, 2008 in Marketing, Regulatory Issues, Standards | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 04, 2008

Perfume Politics: The Oppressive Perfumer's Guild

Guilds are perhaps the precursors of modern trade unions, and also, paradoxically, of some aspects of the modern corporation.  Guilds are actually small business associations and have little in common with trade unions.  They are more like cartels in that they assume exclusive privilege to produce certain goods or services or dictate standards of a profession.  Guilds can establish restrictive guidelines or a rigid system and can exclude those who do not abide.  Guilds emerged with a similar spirit and character to the original patent systems and are not generally conducive to a democratic free flow of development and interaction.   

In the modern democracy, we have created nonprofit organizations or NGO's intended to benefit a group by collective efforts and by providing public education or  services that benefit society.  Legal nonprofit corporations receive tax relief, but are required to provide public reporting and transparency.  Such nonprofit endeavors are usually governed democratically and operated by officials periodically elected from within the membership.  This creates a structure that will evolve the endeavor into the future separate from and not dependent on or owned by any one member. 

The French Perfumer's Guild of antiquity was perhaps the worst example of the power a Guild over its members.  Established by an edict of King Philippe-Auguste in 1190 (reconfirmed by patent letters by King Jean in 1357, again by King Henri III in 1582, and again by Louis XIV in 1658, the "confrerie des Maitres Gantiers et Parfumeurs") that primarily gave glovemakers of the extended medieval period the exclusive right (i.e., monopoly) to manufacture and sell cosmetics of all types.  Why glovemakers, you ask?  Gloves were made from leather tanned using urine and other toxic and putrid substances and needed to be scented before they could be respectably worn.  The glovemakers were wealthy manufacturing businesses and they were quite adept at organized efforts to lobby each respective monarchy, reminding of the importance of their role in medieval society and thereby acquiring the sanction necessary to maintain their monopoly.  And, one can also suspect that favors were extended.  Today, we might call them bribes.  As you can see, this monopoly continued for a long time and was grounded in the necessity for perfuming what would otherwise be unusable products - leather gloves.   The corporation or guild, headed up primarily by master glovemakers,  established the sole credentials of those who could sell gloves as well as perfumed goods and dictated the kinds of products they could manufacture . . . a long list including sachets with perfumed powders, compositions used in burners for environmental scent, pomades for the hair, soap, cosmetic creams, scented gloves and even tobacco.  A quaint novelty to us today, but in common use then, was the "oyselets de Chypre."  These were cloth birds in bright colors, decorated with feathers and stuffed with aromatic powders, then placed in ornate cages and hung from ceilings or walls to add fragrance to a room.

By 1750, there were 250 master perfumers, members of the corporation who had served 4 years as an apprentice and an additional 3 years as "compagnons" before reaching the status of master.  For all intents and purposes, they were slaves, not free (until the Revolution that is) to work outside the confines of the guild or to develop their own trade and commerce.  Only rarely were there exceptions, a notable one being René Le Florentin, Catherine de Medicis's personal and favorite perfumer.  Le Florentin had a reputation for talent in creating scents and fabricating poisons!  And, obviously Catherine was well positioned to demand for him premature status.

Everything changes.  Along  came the French Revolution, rendering perfume and other objects considered frivolous luxury symbols of excesses of the aristocracy out of favor.  With the exception of popular scents like, "parfum á la Guillotine".  Under the Terror, choice of scent indicated political affiliation, a kind of odorous password.  Politically correct scents could literally save one from execution.  Napoleon's return from conquering (so he claimed) Egypt, along with his renowned heroic status gave him the power to re-establish the importance of French manufacturing to the glory of the nation.  His fondness for cologne bode well for the lagging perfume industry, establishing imperial commissions as well as scientific and technological research in organic chemistry . . . a science that would revolutionize the perfume industry in the latter half of the 1700's.   Thus, the adjective "French" is aligned with the noun "civilization" and under a new empire, cosmetic luxury products had a more general and populist allure.

One would hope that we are beyond the oppressive restrictions imposed on the medieval creative perfume artists of the day and that individuality and inventiveness are the modern dictates for his or her endeavors and acceptance.  And, that perfume guilds are fashioned after the democratic principles of modern non-profits and NGO's. 


Stamelman, Richard, "Perfume: A Cultural History of Fragrance from 1750 to the Present", 2006, Rizzoli International Publications, Inc.

Classen, Constance, Howes, David, Synnott, Anthony, "Aroma: The Cultural History of Smell", 1994, Routledge Press

Newman, Cathy, "Perfume: The Art and Science of Scent",  1998 National Geographic Press


Posted by Marcia on May 4, 2008 in Certification, Education, History, Organizations, Perfumery, Politics, Regulatory Issues | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack