Following is Part 2 of OrganicMania’s interview with Diane MacEachern, author of the new eco-best seller Big Green Purse. Part 1 is here.
Big Green Purse aims to inspire women to use their collective purchasing power to “create a cleaner, greener world.” Did you realize that simply by buying more green products, we encourage business to produce more green products? And of course, it’s not all about buying…it’s about reducing, reusing and recycling too.
OrganicMania: In the book, you provide an overview of many of the third party seals and certifications available for green and organic products. It can really be overwhelming. People are just getting used to the USDA Organic seal, and now they’re being asked to learn about the Green Seal, the VeriFlora label, Certified Humane Raised & Handled, the SMaRT Sustainable Standard, and at least nine other seals. On top of that, they need to sort out all the bogus “natural” and “organic” claims. Do you think there is true value in having so many seals?
Diane MacEachern: I do think it’s best defined, so that it’s not brand specific, but product specific. With regard to organics, companies are forbidden by law to claim they’re organic if they’re not. But there is a loophole. For example, they can say on their label that they have used organic lime juice or organic lemons and they can get away with implying that the product is organic. There is a very strict rule about how much of the product has to actually be organic in order to use the USDA Organic seal. But companies can include organic ingredients in their products and imply that the entire product is organic. The consumer may think the product is truly organic, but if it doesn’t have that seal, it’s not organic. This is one of those things that is so annoying and that undermines organic credibility in the marketplace.
(Editor’s Note: For an example of one of these “implied organic products, read this post.)
The best organic products have the Fair Trade seal and the Organic seal. And with coffee, chances are that if you see both these seals, it’s likely shade grown as well.
OrganicMania: Let’s talk about the role of environmental contaminants and health, particularly the impact of chemical ingredients in common household products and personal care products. You write about that extensively. Do you think that the US government will ever change the way it regulates chemicals, from looking at each ingredient separately, as it does now, to looking at interactions between various chemicals? I imagine it would be very complex to do.
Diane MacEachern: None of the presidential candidates are talking about human health impacts of the environment. It’s going to be tough. I think the best thing to do for now is to choose products with the fewest number of ingredients. That gives you a greater chance that you’ll be protected.
OrganicMania: This makes me think of the Precautionary Principle you discuss at length in your book. It’s something that I think a lot of us mothers believe intuitively, but may have no idea that there is literally something called the Precautionary Principle. Can you explain the Precautionary Principle?
Diane MacEachern: The Precautionary Principle was hammered out in 1998 by a conference of scientists, researchers, and citizens. They were concerned that industry was using the lack of absolute scientific evidence as a cover to produce products suspected of having serious health and environmental consequences.
The principle is grounded in the belief that we should not wait to protect ourselves or the planet until we’re absolutely positive, from a scientific point of view, that certain products or activities – think dioxin, the burning of fossil fuels, or even cigarettes – can indeed do damage.
The principle declares, “When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken, even if some cause-and-effect relationships are not fully established scientifically.”
OrganicMania: Thanks so much, Diane. It’s been great hearing your thoughts and getting more insight into your terrific book. And it’s so exciting to see so many women coming together to work on issues surrounding the environment and our health.
Diane MacEachern: Yes, it is exciting. Mary Hunt, the author of “In Women We Trust,” talks about how women are grouping to save the world. Women are using blogs to carve our thoughts into the Internet wall. ‘I was here and this is what I think.’
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