USDA Proposes 'BioPreferred' Label for Biobased Products


The USDA has proposed a new 'BioPreferred' label for bio-based products, such as sustainably harvested wood flooring and plant-based cleaning products. Image courtesy of the USDA.

Wish there was a label for sustainable bio-based products? Well sit tight—there's one on the way. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) released their plans for a BioPreferred label in the Federal Register last Friday. The program will allow manufacturers to voluntarily label their products 'BioPreferred' so consumers can make informed choices about the products they purchase and use.

Under the proposed plan, the label could be used on any product that is "wholly or significantly" made with renewable biological ingredients; in other words, anything made with "renewable plant, animal, marine or forestry materials."

So just how many products are we talking? According to a USDA press release, there are currently about 15,000 products in 200 categories that would qualify for this label.

Already, consumers, businesses and governments can use the online catalogue to find biological products and to see if the products they're currently using are a part of the BioPreferred program. There items include just about anything you might need, from bedding and carpets to fertilizers and roof coatings. Even "road maintenance" products such as de-icers are listed, to help governments source bio-based products.

According to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, the label will benefit everyone:

Consumers want to make more informed product choice decisions and BioPreferred will help them. This label will help consumers, businesses and Federal government purchasers easily identify biobased products.

Of course, there's always a little spin involved when a politician makes an announcement; Vilsack says:

Increasing the purchase and use of biobased products is a priority of the Obama Administration because it helps increase our nation's energy security and independence by using American agricultural products, while spurring economic development in rural areas.

But this statement opens up a whole other can of worms: Will imports qualify for the BioPreferred label? And what about imported raw materials used in manufacturing in the United States?

It seems there's some discrepancy between "using American agricultural products" and the BioPreferred products. Colorado-based Sustainable Flooring has several bamboo flooring products listed in the online database, which would presumably end up carrying the BioPreferred label. But they are all made with Mao Tzu bamboo, which is grown in China. I'm a little confused as to how this uses American agricultural products or how it is beneficial to rural America's economies.

While I'm suspect of Vilsack's political spin, it would be a shame if only domestic-grown and manufactured products qualify as BioPreferred. A worthwhile bio-based products labeling program should include all products sold in the United States—including imports. Because that would really give consumers the power to make better purchasing decisions.

Want to keep up on the latest news on the BioPreferred program and the upcoming label? Follow @BioPreferred on Twitter.

More on Green Product Certification:
McDonough Braungart Product Certification
Is New Organic Beauty Label Green or Greenwash?
98% of Green Labeled Products are Actually Greenwashed

Tags: Agriculture | Animals | Bamboo | Consumerism | Forestry | Shopping | United States

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