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US beauty retailer Truly Organic Inc and its founder and CEO Maxx Appelman have agreed to pay $1.76 million to settle a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) complaint alleging that the company’s bath and beauty products are neither ‘100% organic’ nor ‘certified organic’ by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The FTC said that Truly Organic had also advertised its products as vegan, even though some products contain non-vegan ingredients like honey and lactose, according to the complaint. The court order resolving the FTC complaint bars the defendants from making similar deceptive advertising claims.

“To know if a product is truly organic, consumers have to rely on companies to be truthful and accurate,” said Andrew Smith, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “That’s why we’ll hold companies accountable when they lie about their products being organic, especially when they’ve used fake certificates and ignored USDA warnings.”

“To know if a product is truly organic, consumers have to rely on companies to be truthful … That’s why we’ll hold companies accountable when they lie about their products being organic”

Truly Organic sells products nationwide using its own website and social media accounts. The company also sells through third-party websites, such as ulta.com, urbanoutfitters.com, nordstrom.com and aerie.com, and provides third parties with marketing materials used to market and sell Truly Organic products.

The complaint alleges that to induce customers to buy Truly Organic products, the defendants have used many statements that imply their products either are wholly organic or certified organic in compliance with the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP). These statements include claims that Truly Organic products contain ‘100% Organic Ingredients,’ are ‘certified organic,’ are ‘USDA . . . organic,’ are ‘100% organic’ or are ‘Truly Organic’.

The FTC contends, however, that many of the defendants’ products actually contain ingredients that are not organic, with the non-organic ingredients included only in lists that are ‘buried among other text on product labels and websites’. Additionally, some Truly Organic products are said by the FTC to incorporate non-organic ingredients that could be organically sourced, such as non-organic lemon juice. Other Truly Organic products contain non-organic ingredients that the USDA does not even allow in organic handling, such as the chemicals cocamindopropyl betaine and sodium cocosurfactant.

In addition, according to the complaint, some Truly Organic products, such as their bath bombs and soaps, contain no organic ingredients at all, as they come as finished products from wholesalers who do not offer organic products. The complaint alleges that none of the defendants’ products have been certified organic in compliance with the USDA NOP, and some products marketed as vegan contain non-vegan ingredients.

In a separate statement, the commissioner of the FTC, Rohit Chopra, said: “I commend commission staff for investigating fraudulent greenwashing by Truly Organic and its CEO, Maxx Harley Appelman. This conduct distorted competition for organic products, inflicting harm on honest producers. Truly Organic and Appelman also harmed consumers, some of whom may have purchased their products for health reasons.”

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About the Author

Jim Manson

Editor-in-chief
Jim Manson is Editor-In-Chief of Diversified Communication UK's natural and organic publishing portfolio. He’s written widely on environment and development issues for specialist magazines and national media, including the Financial Times, The Guardian, The Times, Time Out and World Bank Urban Age.

Articles by Jim Manson
Jim Manson
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