Shopping today requires close reading of labels. If the label says "toxic-free," "natural" or "organic," what exactly does that mean? Are the products really better or is it just marketing?
Let’s start by understanding what "toxic" means. Toxic chemicals are those that have shown to cause harm when inhaled, swallowed, or absorbed by the skin. Some of these chemicals are considered poisons while others just cannot be taken in large amounts.
The Minnesota Department of Health regularly monitors seven “priority” chemicals, which include: lead, formaldehyde, bisphenol A (BPA), cadmium, phthalates, and two flame-retardants called decaBDE and HBCD. They also have a 142-page list of chemicals of high concern on their website.
It is implied that a chemical that is described as non-toxic or toxic-free would not cause adverse health affects. But in reality, there are no specific standards for non-toxic products.
There is no organization that verifies the use of the term “non-toxic” other than the company manufacturing or marketing the product.
Cleaning products and pesticides are regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). They consider claims such as "non-toxic," "contains all natural ingredients," and other statements about the safety of those products to be false or misleading.(1)
"Natural" and "organic" are two other terms that are frequently used but their meanings are also not so clear.
Natural products, like non-toxic ones, do not have to meet any set standards in order to be deemed natural. Organic products, on the other hand, do have specific criteria they must meet to certify them as organic.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not have a definition for a natural product. “However, the agency has not objected to the use of the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances.”(2)
The Natural Ingredients Resource Center says that the FDA also describes natural ingredients as those "ingredients extracted directly from plants or animal products as opposed to being produced synthetically."