Have you wondered about the difference? I have and although I’m an organic gardening and lifestyle advocate all the way there are some things you should know about the certified USDA Organic Standard for food and farming, the changes may indeed have a direct effect on essential oil quality.
For starters, USDA Organic regulations for organic products in a nutshell:
- 100 Percent Organic: must show an ingredient list, the name and address of the handlers (bottler, importer, manufacturer, packer, processor, importer etc. of the finished product and the name or seal of the organic certifier. All ingredients must be certified organic too (exceptions: water and salt).
- Organic: must contain at least 95% organic ingredients. The label must show an ingredient list that identifies the organic as well as the non-organic ingredients and the name of the organic certifier. Any non-organic ingredients must be approved for use in an organic product by the USDA (exceptions: water and salt). (Carrageenan ring a bell? Once a no-no in organic products is now allowed).
Yes, there have been changes, “USDA Organic” now leaves a small leeway for “other” additives.
What does this mean in terms of Essential Oils? Well…
Are organic products completely free of pesticide residues?
The 1995 definition of organic production by the National Organics Standard Board notes that “Organic agriculture practices cannot ensure that products are completely free of residues; however, methods are used to minimize pollution from air, soil and waters.” These methods include buffer zones between conventional and organic fields, a three-year waiting period before previously non-organic land can be used for organic crops, and placing organic products in storage on the higher shelves to avoid cross contamination from non-organic products. Products are tested by certification agencies for contamination in response to a complaint, to spot-check certain crops, or if there is any evidence of contamination.
Although I embrace all things organic I understand that unless I’ve grown it myself, there are exceptions to the rule these days. While choosing organic is a good choice to reduce exposure to chemicals and pesticides, choosing pure EOs over organic is a better choice in my opinion when it comes to essential oils. Note that I don’t use company “marketing slogans” like therapeutic grade or certified therapeutic grade because they’re not a real standard. In fairness, Spark Naturals has their own designation too: Certified Pure PharmaGrade but I’m comfortable with it as they strive to align themselves with The U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention, a physical standard.
“The U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention (USP) is a scientific nonprofit organization that sets standards for the identity, strength, quality, and purity of medicines, food ingredients, and dietary supplements manufactured, distributed and consumed worldwide. USP’s drug standards are enforceable in the United States by the Food and Drug Administration, and these standards are used in more than 140 countries.”
So here’s my bottom line…
When you choose a pure line of essential oils you’re indeed getting a superior organic product, even more so than the local “organic” line sold in your favorite health food store. How? This level of a therapeutic quality essential oil undergoes a final testing process via Gas Chromatography and Mass Spectrometry (GC/MS), checking for pesticides, fungus/disease, solvents and any other impurities. The AH HA moment? All plant material sourced must be of an organic origin first and foremost in order to pass the stringent tests. But remember, organic doesn’t always mean pure, not anymore, residue chemicals can travel and permeate the ground or infiltrate water systems. For my money, I’ll stick with an organic plant source AND the assurance of a pure end result thru additional GC/MS testing.
I hope this helps in understanding the difference between organic and pure essential oils, it certainly can be confusing out there!