A manufacturer's worst nightmare is to run out of a key raw material for their product. It's what keeps them up at night – will there be enough? Will it arrive in time? Will the costs be consistent or wildly fluctuate? This is exactly what's happening to manufacturers who rely on certified organic wool as part of their bedding program. The US wool industry has been in decline for decades due to the elimination of wool subsidies from the farm bill, lower wool prices and a rise in the use of synthetic fibers. For these and a myriad of other reasons, most of the wool we use across all industries is imported from New Zealand, Australia and Eastern Europe. We still produce some wool, but growers in the United States who are willing to pay for the USDA organic certification, are fewer and fewer. In fact, the wool we use for bedding, which is coarser and has a high crimp (curlier) is not available at all domestically in certified organic. To exacerbate the issue further, it isn’t only the cost that is deterring our wool growers from getting certified. The biggest complaint from growers is that they must sacrifice a percentage of sheep to disease, particularly worms. Just like our pets, sheep are susceptible to worms and the worming treatment is not allowed in the organic standard. Another bane to wool growers is tick infestations. Ticks are common in wool coming in from New Mexico which still produces finer certified organic wool, but is too fine a fiber and not ideal for bedding. Consequently, all certified organic wool is imported for the mattress and bedding industry.
What Certifications Have to Offer
Third Party Certifications serve one important purpose – traceability. This is critically important, because the only way to really know if a process is being adhered to, is to be able to trace all of the steps within the process. Consumers are bombarded with "green" messaging now more than ever. Marketers are clamoring to grab this new eco-minded consumer. More and more consumers are demanding for proof, which comes in the form of certifications, otherwise how would they really know? In the mattress and bedding industry, the holy grail of certifications is GOTS (The Global Organic Textile Standard). GOTS has strict standards for the textile industry and now even for finished products like mattresses. A decade ago, it was a challenge just to get certified organic cotton. Now, even wool and latex are certified. Few consumers, however, know what these standards really mean. The FTC polices product claims, making sure that if a claim is made, it can be substantiated, in a mission to stomp out greenwashing. In a nutshell, certified organic wool is made from sheep that are USDA certified organic, scoured in facilities that are GOTS certified, carded in mills that are GOTS certified (Oregon Tilth is a certifier for GOTS), and is assigned a lot number to be used to trace back through all of these processes. So what happens when the supply dries up? Or the price goes up by 50% or more? Or when growers decide not to renew their certifications?
Alternatives to Certified Organic Wool
Eco Wool® is wool that is processed similarly to certified organic and often times, in the same facilities that were once certified, but the sheep themselves are not certified by the USDA. Many of the growers of Eco Wool® were once certified, but did not renew their certifications due to costs, the health of their sheep, and certification constraints that were not consistent with their unique growing environments. Growers of Premium Eco Wool® still adhere to strict purity standards and sound animal husbandry practices. Humane treatment, chemical-free growing criteria, and environmental friendliness are all taken into account when choosing growers for Eco Wool®. Animals are expensive, so keeping them healthy is tantamount to the growers' success. Many growers are getting Certified Humane certifications, which allows them to maintain a healthy flock and have transparency and traceability through a third party certification. The US growers we spoke with were honest and open about their practices, and are committed to keeping them sustainable and humane. As the wool industry is shrinking, the farmers who still tend to their flocks are smaller family operations struggling to survive. For many of them the high cost of certification and constant battles with disease, predators, and unpredictable climate issues, make it difficult to stay in business. Supporting our local growers is good for business and good for our country.
To make matters worse, the quality of organic wool has not been as good as domestic wool, and prices have jumped more than 50%! The imported organic wool is not as clean and has higher veggie matter content. The carding process eliminates much of the veggie matter, but the domestic wool tends to come out cleaner. So this all begs the question, which is better? Imported organic, or eco domestic? We vote for the latter. Since we are closer to the growers, we create a minimal carbon footprint; Most organic wool in the US has a massive carbon footprint due to shipping from across the planet. We also know the processing is done in the same manner and in the same facilities that processes certified organic wool. It uses biodegradable detergents using plant-based ingredients. Consumers will only pay so much for certified organic, when products are priced out of the market due to the certification process, we are forced to look for alternatives.