New label to boost biobased chems demand

It’s a happy week this week for all biobased chems and products manufacturers as the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the launched of a new voluntary product certification and labeling program for qualifying biobased products (and chemicals).

The new label will clearly identify biobased products for all buyers and consumers and not just federal agencies anymore. The USDA identifies biobased products as those composed wholly or significantly of biological ingredients coming from renewable plant, animal, marine or forestry materials. The label will have a prescribed percentage amount of biobased content certified to meet the USDA standards.

In a media briefing held last Wednesday by the USDA Secretary Kathleen Merrigan, the agency noted that there are already 5,100 designated biobased products identified by the USDA for preferred purchasing by US federal agencies.

The USDA estimates that there are 20,000 biobased products currently being manufactured in the US. The USDA also identified 50 product categories for the BioPreferred Federal procurement program including cafeteria ware, personal and institutional cleaning products, construction products, lubricants, greases, etc.

With the announcement, the BioPreferred program now has two parts: the biobased product procurement preference program for federal agencies, and the new voluntary labeling initiative for broad scale marketing of biobased products. By the way, the minimum threshold for biobased content is 25% for finished biobased products and for intermediate ingredients or feedstock not within the designated USDA categories.

There were actually a lot of interesting comments on the Federal Register on how this labeling will work and should work. Read on if you have the time. As to who can apply for the certification and product labeling, any manufacturers or distributors (vendors) of biobased products are welcomed.

In a Roundtable panel discussion yesterday held by the BIO organization, I asked the panel (which included NatureWorks, Metabolix and DuPont) about fees, NatureWorks noted that the USDA itself will not impose any fees for the label but the testing of the bio-based product (on how much biobased content it will have) via third party firms will have to be shouldered by applicants.

All three companies noted that the labeling is not yet perfect but agreed this is a first step towards having a common language for biobased products within the consumer and even industrial level. 

“The labeling provides a common authoritative reference of bio-based content” – NatureWorks

“The labeling substantiated our claims. It is important to consumers and manufacturers to verify that we are marketing our products correctly.” – Metabolix

“Most of our biobased products are further back in the value chain. The labeling creates awareness from businesses to consumers of having biobased content in their end products.” – DuPont

Here are some other formal comments coming from various industries and companies:



American Soybean Association

Rivertop Renewables –

“We applaud the USDA’s recent ruling to initiate the volunteer labeling program for biobased products. I’m pleased to see a decade long effort by the USDA and leaders in the renewable chemical industry culminate in this enhancement of the federal BioPreferred program. These labels will help educate consumers and spur even more demand for safer, cleaner, and more sustainable everyday products such as detergents, cleaners, and plastics.” -Jim Stoppert, CEO Rivertop Renewables.

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