Online farmers' market Etsy accuses grandmother soap makers of selling 'illegal drugs,' launches snitch program

Monday, August 20, 2012 by: J. D. Heyes
Tags: Etsy, soap makers, farmers markets

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(NaturalNews) The seemingly coordinated assault on your right to purchase and utilize all-natural products is ongoing, this time involving a pair of grandmothers who have, unbelievably, been accused of being drug dealers.

Here's the story.

As their business, Shepard's Heart, grew, Pat Showalter and Celeste Bishop, sellers of pure beauty and health products, needed a larger, more capable Internet service that could handle the volume of sales. They shopped around, examined their options and eventually chose Etsy, a web company specifically established for entrepreneurs just like them.

Calling itself "the world's handmade marketplace" on its site, Etsy further defined its purpose: "Our mission is to empower people to change the way the global economy works. We see a world in which very-very small businesses have much-much more sway in shaping the economy, local living economies are thriving everywhere, and people value authorship and provenance as much as price and convenience. We are bringing heart to commerce and making the world more fair, more sustainable, and more fun."

On the surface, this seemed like a perfect match: A pair of grandmothers selling handmade items to customers who want to buy them through a website specifically designed for that purpose.

"When our original webmaster was unable to handle our volume we sought out another venue for our extensive line of products which includes handcrafted goat milk soaps, Castile soaps, creams, lotions, lip balms, and other bath products," Bishop says, according to a published account. "

If only it were that simple.

No natural products here, please

According to Showalter and Bishop; however, they are now locked in a battle with the company over the very handmade products the site appears to encourage and favor. According to a letter from someone named "Sarah" from the web retail site's "Integrity Department," some of the products being sold by Shepard's Heart appear "to make medical drug claims," which, Etsy says, is a violation of its policies.

"Such claims link a product to the cure or treatment of a health condition or disease. Medical drug claims are prohibited on Etsy," the letter said, further instructing the women to "remove these claims from the presentation of your shop listings."

The offending items?

All-natural products.

"Demanding that our company cease from sharing the goodness of natural healing is the crime. How will we teach the next generation the healing arts if we are forbidden from sharing what ingredients have traditionally and historically been able to accomplish?" Bishop says.

According to the Food as a Weapon website, the products featured by Shepard's Heart include "over 400 wholesome products made from pure ingredients like raw goat milk, virgin olive oil, coconut oil, palm oil."

Further, the report said, "Shepherds Heart health artisans then add high quality essential oils which historically have treated various afflictions, clays for color and to draw out toxins (including radiation), and accents of herbs and florals grown in our own pesticide-free gardens, or wild-craft gathered flora, which add beauty as well as healing."

Therein lies the problem, according to Etsy officials.

In a recently updated policy statement regarding the issue, Etsy says: "We have clarified the previous language from 'drug-like substances' to now be 'medical drug claims about an item.' A medical drug claim makes a correlation between a product and the cure or relief of a health condition or illness. In many cases, an item itself is not problematic, but the way it is presented with certain language is against this policy."

But are those really "health claims?" And what about this notion that the women are selling "illicit drugs?"

Define 'illicit drug'

"We provide our clientele with all the information that they need, including scientific peer-reviews, so that they can make educated decisions on what they will put on their skin, the largest organ on their body, and into their bodies. We feel they deserve that information," says Showalter.

"We believe that our customers are perfectly capable of analyzing the information presented and making decisions for themselves," adds Bishop.

Moreover, the women said Etsy - which generated sales of $62.8 million in March 2012 alone, according to Fortune magazine - has since launched what they describe as a "snitch" program.

"If you see a listing or shop on Etsy that doesn't appear to follow the rules, please use the 'Report this to Etsy' link on the listing or shop, and Etsy's Marketplace Integrity Team will review it," says a document posted at the One Health Initiative site purporting to describe the program.

The timing of the flare-up is less than idea, said Showalter.

"This comes at our busiest time of year when we are at farmers' markets and festivals, not to mention visitors and vacations, kidding season (for goats) and preparing our farms for harvest," she said.

Nevertheless, the pair seem resigned to their fate.

"We will take our product to other venues that support the integration of therapeutic ingredients into beauty products. We also want to reassure the public that these two grandmothers are certainly not engaged in the illegal drug trade," they said in a statement.


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