USDA publishes final rules on biobased products

By Erin Voegele | June 16, 2015

On June 15, the USDA’s Office of Procurement and Property Management published two final rules in the Federal Register related to biobased products. One rule amends regulations concerning the voluntary labeling program for biobased products, the other amends regulations for designating biobased products for federal procurement.

The voluntary labeling program rule incorporates statutory changes to the program implemented by the 2014 Farm Bill. A proposed rule outlining the changes was first released in Oct. 2014, with a comment period that concluded in late December. 

Information published in the Federal Register outlines five major provisions included in the final rule. First, several definition changes are made to bring the voluntary labeling rule up to date with the BioPreferred Program Guidelines included in the 2014 Farm Bill. This includes deleting the definitions of BioPreferred Product, designated item, and mature market products. The definitions of biobased product, certification mark artwork, and intermediate ingredient or feedstock have been revised. In addition, new definitions are added for designated product category, forest product, qualified biobased product and renewable chemical.

Second, revisions are made to the criteria for product eligibility to use the certification mark, while a third revision alters a section of the regulation that pertains to the initial approval process. A fourth change corrects an error in the violations section of the regulation. Finally, the rule identifies three auditing efforts that will be ongoing for the voluntary labeling program.

The final rule setting guidelines for designating biobased products for federal procurement also incorporates statutory changes implemented by the 2014 Farm Bill. A proposed rule was first introduced in October 2014, with a comment period that ended in December. 

The rulemaking makes four major changes to the program. First, it revises the definition of biobased product to state that the term includes forest products that meet biobased content requirements, notwithstanding the market share the product holds, the age of the product, or whether the market for the product is new or emerging. Definitions are also added for the terms forest product and renewable chemical, while the current definition of forestry materials is deleted.

Second, the rule adds a new paragraph to the regulation requiring federal agencies to report the quantities and types of biobased products purchased.

Third, the rule adds language that requires federal procuring agencies to establish a targeted biobased-only procurement requirement under which the procuring agency must issue a certain number of biobased-only contracts when the agency is purchasing products, or purchasing services that include the use of products, that are included in a biobased product category designated by the secretary.

Finally, the rule expands the description of the procedures and considerations for designating product categories, including those product categories that were excluded from the BioPreferred Program under the previous mature market products exclusion. According to the rule, based on a provision in the 2014 Farm Bill that states “It is the Managers' intention that all products in the program use innovative approaches in the growing, harvesting, sourcing, procuring, processing, manufacturing, or application of the biobased product,” the USDA is incorporating criteria to be used when evaluating whether biobased products meet the requirement to use “innovative approaches.”