Given how many items are now labeled as organic or natural, how can consumers make the best choices?
The USDA organic label provides some assurance when it comes to food and other agricultural products such as organic wool and organic cotton. Yet most conscious consumers have a sense that organic food standards are now lower than they used to be, even though we may not be able to track all the variables ourselves. Because there is increasing profit in the organic niche, big business is now much more involved. These market forces are influencing organic standards as well.
On top of shifting standards, it’s also evident that many “organic” labels are misleading, especially in bigger box stores.
Natural and organic mattresses are a little more complicated than food is, because there is no regulatory agency that oversees the labeling. As one manufacturer said, “You can say whatever you want until someone proves you wrong.” We think there’s simply too much room to mislead customers, and chemical industry lobbying is a potent and massive force that undermines the legitimacy of smaller companies that are trying to do the right thing.
Where does this leave the consumer? If there are 20 mattresses, all with the same descriptive terminology, how do you know which manufacturer is actually making an organic mattress and which is just hitching a ride on the words?
Here are a few principles for the consumer to follow:
- Rather than try to choose your manufacturer from the start, start by eliminating companies who never had anything to do with organics and are newly pushing the concept, and then drill down to the relatively few reputable companies with a genuine interest in organics.
- If a manufacturer is making all kinds of mattresses with memory foam, polyurethane foam, and “breathable” fabric, then they do not have a primary focus on organic or eco-friendly mattresses; and terming any of their products “organic” may be a misnomer.
- There is no such thing as organic memory foam, although some companies call a hybrid foam that. Soy memory foams today are at most 30% natural, meaning that 70% of the foam is made from petroleum products.
- As of today there is no large company manufacturing a certified organic mattress.
- If a mattress is sold in a big box store, it’s very unlikely to be organic. There may be an organic cotton cover on it (if that), but that’s likely the only organic part.
- If the cover fabric is stretchy, like a loose knit, it’s not organic fabric all the way through. Organic material does not include stretchy thread. Often organic fabric is layered on top of stretchy synthetic fabric because it creates a nice surface feel—so what you touch on top is organic, but underneath is not. (Because it will be covered by bedding anyway, the superficial feel of the cover should not be a deciding factor.)
- If a mattress is labeled organic, the manufacturer or retailer should be able to produce authoritative, third-party certifications that verify the organic qualities of the materials used. If they can’t, the product is probably not organic.
- The manufacturer’s website and mission statement should reflect genuine concern for personal and environmental health.