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There is a plethora of labeling claims in the marketplace. However, not all labels receive the support of the Oval Office.President Obama recently issued a memorandum calling for the expansion of the USDA BioPreferred program, which includes the UDSA's voluntary product certification and labeling program, and greater adoption of the program by federal agencies.

Heather Caliendo

March 21, 2012

3 Min Read
USDA BioPreferred label program growing among packaging industry

There is a plethora of labeling claims in the marketplace. However, not all labels receive the support of the Oval Office.

President Obama recently issued a memorandum calling for the expansion of the USDA BioPreferred program, which includes the UDSA's voluntary product certification and labeling program, and greater adoption of the program by federal agencies.

BioPreferredLabel-web.jpgThe BioPreferred label designates products that are composed wholly or significantly of renewable plant, animal, marine or forestry materials. The President has directed federal agencies to report on their purchases of BioPreferred certified products and asked the USDA to double the number of categories and products that are designated BioPreferred over the next 12 months.

The BioPreferred program, established by the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 and strengthened by the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008, is intended to increase Federal procurement of biobased products to promote rural economic development, create new jobs, and provide new markets for farm commodities.

Last year, the BioPreferred program launched a voluntary labeling initiative for the broad-scale marketing of biobased products. To qualify for the designation, an item must contain enough renewable material to meet or exceed the USDA-specified standards.

The USDA evaluates each application to determine if the product meets the certification criteria, and a sample of the product must be tested for biobased content. Once certified, the product can use the USDA certified biobased product label.

Categories for these preferred products include disposable tableware (minimum biobased content 72%) and expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam recycling products (minimum bio-based content 90%).

Kate Lewis, deputy program manager for BioPreferred, told PlasticsToday chemical companies that make biopolymers for packaging, as well as brand owners, have expressed a considerable amount of interest in pursuing certification.

Since launching the labeling initiative, the program has received more than 1,000 applications, and certified more than 500 products. About 10% certified consisted of biobased packaging.

"We have had nice interest in the packaging industry and I think it dovetails what is going on with the industry and the growth in bioplastics," she said. "I think packaging is the latest sector where consumers are looking for sustainable products."

Research conducted last year by Genencor, now part of DuPont Industrial Biosciences, found that eight in 10 American consumers would definitely or likely purchase biobased household products if comparable on cost and effectiveness. In a survey of 800 of its business customers in 2011, DuPont found that nearly 90% said delivering products with environmental benefits is a long-term market opportunity.

With the high demand for bioplastics, the BioPreferred program can open up additional opportunities for the industry, said Rina Singh, policy director, science and renewable chemicals, industrial biotechnology and environmental section for the Biotechnology Industry Organization.

She said if companies are developing bioplastics, they should get the BioPreferred certification.

"If they are producing it, they should get their plastics testing for bio-content and put it on the market with the USDA label," she said. "If they are not playing in the biobased or renewable chemical space, they should look into it."

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