“Organic” is a powerful word, a heavy hitter of the eco-community. To find a product made without toxic chemicals, people might use “organic” in an online search. In our industry, you might see an “organic mattress” advertised, but what does that really mean? It isn't a product you eat, so why does it matter if it is organic? The answer can be a little trickier than you might first think.

 Understanding Organic

The use of the term “organic” is regulated by the U.S. government when it comes to food or raw agricultural materials, but NOT non-food, manufactured items. The National Organic Program (NOP), as a federal regulatory framework, lays out guidelines on what can and can’t be labeled as organic food. The NOP requires crops to be grown without synthetic pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides. They also lay out rules for the soil and prohibit GMO crops. In other words, the government sets the organic food standards. So what does that mean for all other products that claim to be organic?

 Get to Know the Standards

When it comes to most manufactured products, those standards don’t apply. Anything that undergoes a major transition or uses other materials that are not agricultural by nature (for example metal or plastic) is outside of the scope of the NOP.

When it comes to fabrics, clothing, and mattresses—an independent global set of rules called the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) was formed with extremely strict guidelines. A select number of third-party certifiers are licensed to provide this certification to organizations that produce organic textiles of any sort. The process for any organization aspiring for the certification requires inspections, audits, and looks at many factors through the entire product chain. GOTS demands every step of the supply chain—from farms to factory— follow rules regarding chemical use and worker welfare. If any step in the process fails, a product will be denied a GOTS certification.

 What This Means for You

While the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) provides some guidance on green marketing, and acknowledges the veracity of the GOTS seal, the government itself doesn’t define the word. If a company advertises a mattress that is full of synthetic foams as organic, consumers have the right to file a complaint with the FTC. The FTC might rule against the company, but unlike food, the government doesn’t have any standard that outlines what an organic mattress or an organic shirt is.

If you want to be sure your mattress is made with organically grown materials, and no toxic chemicals, make sure the entire product is GOTS certified. (Latex only mattresses can be certified to a different standard called GOLS, the Global Organic Latex Standard). Without either of these standards (GOTS or GOLS), the word “organic” on a mattress has no regulation by the government, and means very little in terms of a health claim, so don’t be fooled by the buzzword!