USDA issues rule for biobased product labeling program
The USDA’s BioPreferred program has released its final rule for a voluntary product certification and labeling program for qualifying biobased products. The new label will clearly identify biobased products made from renewable resources, while promoting the increased sale and use of these products in the commercial market and for consumers.
According to the department, biobased products are those composed wholly or significantly of biological ingredients, including renewable plant, animal, marine or forestry materials. The new label indicates that the product has been certified to meet USDA standards for a prescribed amount of biobased content. The final rule, which is effective Feb. 22, applies to product manufacturers and distributors who wish to participate in the voluntary labeling component of the BioPreferred Program. It also applies to other entities, such as trade associations, that wish to use the label to promote biobased products.
With the launch of the new product label, the USDA’s BioPreferred program is now comprised of two parts: a biobased product procurement preference program for federal agencies, and the voluntary labeling initiative.
Under the rule, biobased products that fall under a USDA designated item category in the Federal procurement preference portion of the program must meet the minimum biobased content of the relevant item. Products that do not fall under a designated item must contain 51 percent biobased content unless the applicant applies for—and receives—and alternative minimum biobased content. While mature products are excluded from the federal procurement preference program, the USDA said they will be considered for label certification on a case-by-case basis. Mature market products are defined as those that had a significant market share in 1972. An example of this is cotton T-shirts.
To apply to use the label, applicants must submit testing evidence of the biobased content of the product. They also need to provide the department with the product’s brand name, contact information, and a link to the product’s website, if available. In the event a manufacturer makes claims on the product packaging related to environmental and human health effects, life-cycle costs, sustainability benefits or performance of their products, documentation supporting these claims must also be maintained.
The USDA will review each application it receives to determine if a product meets the needed criteria. If it does not, applicants may revise their applicants and resubmit to the program.
Once certified, the product may use the label. The certification will remain valid as long as the product is manufactured in accordance with the information provided in the original application. If the USDA revises minimum biobased content levels in the future, continued use of the label will be dependent upon whether the product meets the new minimum biobased content levels.
The USDA has already designated approximately 5,100 biobased products for preferred purchasing by federal agencies. According to the department, the new label will make these products easier to identify for both federal buyers and other markets. The USDA further estimates that approximately 20,000 biobased products are currently being manufactured in the U.S.
"Today's consumers are increasingly interested in making educated purchasing choices for their families," said Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan. "This label will make those decisions easier by identifying products as biobased. These products have enormous potential to create green jobs in rural communities, add value to agricultural commodities, decrease environmental impacts, and reduce our dependence on imported oil."
The Biotechnology Industry Organization has spoken out in favor of the new labeling program. “Biobased products are being developed to satisfy growing consumer demand for renewable green products and meet the most important environmental goals, including reducing use of petroleum and other nonrenewable resources, reducing waste in landfills, and lowering greenhouse gas emissions,” said Brent Erickson, executive vice president of Bio’s industrial and environmental section. “Many biobased products are already cost competitive with fossil resource-based materials. With independent testing, consumers can be confident that products bearing the certified biobased label are made with renewable resources. The biobased product sector can be an important area for economic growth and new jobs. In all, as many as 5,100 new products from 562 companies already identified by the BioPreferred program could be eligible for the labeling and certification program.”