The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) have released an August 10, 2016, joint report examining consumers’ perceptions of “recycled content” and “organic” claims, especially for non-agricultural products and services. Using data from Internet-based questionnaires completed by 8,016 respondents, the study sought to determine whether consumers view products marketed with such claims as having “particular environmental benefits or attributes.”

Among other things, FTC and USDA asked consumers to assess the accuracy of recycled content and organic claims when applied to products made with varying types of recycled materials and varying proportions of “man-made” substances. While the agencies reported no significant difference among consumer perceptions of products that used either pre- or post-consumer recycled materials, “a significant minority of respondents disagreed that the organic claims accurately describe the product” when a small percentage of materials (i.e., “less than 1%; 1% to 5%; and 5% to 10%”) was identified as “made by a man-made, chemical process.”

“For organic claims, we asked how respondents understand the term ‘organic’ in a variety of contexts, focusing on products that may fall outside of USDA’s existing National Organic Program requirements, in particular, non-food products with non-agricultural components, such as an ‘organic’ mattress,” state the agencies. They also noted that respondents were equally split “between those who believe that organic claims have the same meaning for non-food products and food products, and those who believe they have different meanings.”

“[R]oughly 35% of respondents believed that organic claims for shampoos or mattresses imply that the product meets some government standard,” concludes the joint report. “About 30% of respondents believed that USDA certifies organic claims for these products.”

To further explore these perceptions about organic claims and determine if FTC needs to update its guidance in this area, the agencies have also announced an October 20, 2016, roundtable in Washington, D.C., to gather additional feedback on organic claims for non-agricultural products. Open to the public, the roundtable brings together consumer advocates, industry representatives and academics to discuss “consumers’ interpretations of ‘organic’ claims for products and services that generally fall outside the scope of the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service’s National Organic Program,” as well as “approaches to address potential deception.”