Sourcing natural ingredients could backfire – Organic Monitor

By Simon Pitman

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Organic monitor Sustainable palm oil Agriculture

The rise of natural ingredients seems to be a never-ending trend, but could the fact that the beauty industry’s increasing reliance on agricultural crops mean trouble?

Agricultural sourcing of ingredients for cosmetic and personal care has been all the rage in recent years, with many products often blurring the boundaries between food and beauty products because of the feedstock ingredients they share.

But with the growing problem of food commodity shortages and rising consumer food prices because of arable land shortages, researchers at Organic Monitor believe that the increasing reliance on agricultural resources by the beauty industry could open a pandora’s box of issues.

One of the principle driving forces behind the success of natural and organic cosmetic and personal care ingredients is the fact that they don’t use the type of harsh man-made chemicals that are potentially harmful, both to the individual’s health and to the environment.

Likewise, the use of plant-based ingredients is also flagged up as being environmentally responsible, because they are derived from renewable sources, which ultimately lowers the environmental footprint.

Ethical and ecological questions

However, Organic Monitor points to the fact that diverting agricultural land from food crops to crops used for beauty products throws up both ‘ethical and ecological’ questions.

The use of bio-fuels has led to much debate about diverting land use from food crops, exacerbating already pronounced shortages in worldwide food crop availability. This finger of blame could soon be pointed at the beauty industry for much the same reasons.

Given the rising worldwide population, particularly in the developing world, and the shrinking amount of agricultural land, this problem is expected to only get worse in the future.

Organic Monitor points out that the only way the industry is likely to successfully avoid being blamed for this is by ensuring that plant-based ingredients are sourced sustainably, in turn ensuring the land use is optimized.

Several of the big international ingredients players, cosmetics companies and retailers have already implemented initiatives to ensure that the industry is moving in the right direction.

RSPO leads the way in sustainable sourcing

One of the most significant and far-reaching industry initiatives has come from The Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), which has made huge progress in encouraging the beauty industry to switch to sustainable sourcing of palm oil.

This initiative is now supported by some of the industry’s biggest players, including L’Oreal, Avon and Unilever, and has established goals that will see many companies sourcing only sustainable palm oil by 2015.

Organic Monitor also points to the fact that natural and organic seals are helping to forge more sustainable sourcing of ingredients for the industry, while fairtrade initiatives also touch on this area, helping farmers in developing countries to employ more sustainable methods.

Likewise the issues of biodiversity and climate change are also helping to divert more attention to the sustainable sourcing of crops used for ingredients in cosmetics products, together with all other industries.

Ultimately, the researchers at Organic Monitor point to the fact that the sustainable sourcing of ingredients for beauty products will be a crucial insurance policy if companies want to avoid further blame for jeopardising food supplies.

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