Natural beauty brands face ‘free from’ labelling ban

Big cosmetics brands are pressuring EU authorities to ban ‘free from’ and ‘no’ labelling of natural and organic beauty products.

That’s the warning from Peter Kindersley, owner of pioneer health and beauty brand Neal’s Yard Remedies.

Now Kindersley has written to the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Perfumery Association (CTPA) urging it to speak out against any plan to ban ‘free from’ labelling, which he says would penalise companies who go beyond baseline compliance.

Talking to Natural Products, he said: “What we’ve heard is that the proposed amendment to the EU cosmetics regulation – which would not only ban ‘free from’ and ‘no’ claims on labels, but also on all marketing material – is being driven by larger companies and consumer groups in an attempt to strike a blow against greenwashing.

“As a company we would agree that greenwashing is bad for our industry, but that this change is a completely inappropriate response and threatens to damage innovation in our industry – and could lead to further ignorance on the part of consumers. Our view is that this is a much worse than the current risk of ‘greenwashing’.

In his letter, Kindersely suggests that a more likely motivation for the proposed amendment of the EU Cosmetics Directive is that ‘free from’ labelling casts big brands in a poor light by highlighting their failure to remove ingredients of concern.

The Neal’s Yard owner believes that the behind-the-scenes manoeuvring by large cosmetic brands is part of a wider push by big business to ban “informative and honest” ingredients labelling. But he says there is a growing resistance to this type of corporate bullying – the ‘Just Label It’ campaign in the US, calling for mandatory labelling of GM food, being one example.

Neal’s Yard Remedies is urging other natural and organic brands to rally round on the issue.  “The surreptitious way this is happening – we only found out about it ourselves through a chance conversation – is particularly disturbing. When we’ve talked to other smaller brands the reaction has been one of bewilderment – people feel completely powerless. The message we need to get across in Europe is that this is bad for business and will block important innovation in the industry. Together we need to create a voice for the smaller brands – a noisy voice that gets heard.”

Former Ecologist editor Pat Thomas advises NYR on regulatory affairs. She told NP: “The big question for consumers here is who is making your choices for you?. If the big brands get away with banning ‘free from’ and ‘no’ labelling it would mean that at the point of purchase consumers would be deprived of information on health compromising ingredients and, potentially, claims like ‘no animal testing’ that are so important to growing numbers of consumers.”

Thomas says there is a danger that small brands will be lulled into a false sense of security. “It’s easy to think that Directives move very slowly and have long transition periods. But acting late can be very costly for individual businesses as well as the whole of the natural products sector.”

• Read an exclusive article by Peter Kindersley on the threat to ‘free from’ labelling in the June issue of Natural Products.

Neal’s Yard Remedies has created an on-line survey to gather together the views of other natural beauty brands – and retailers – on the proposed ban on ‘free from’ labelling. Click HERE to go straight to the survey form.