Giving biobased products USDA seal of approval

Iowans like to know the story behind the products we purchase. In a hardware store, we might look for a “Made in the U.S.A.” imprint on a hammer or garden tool, or buy a new appliance that bears the “EnergyStar” seal of approval. So while it might still be tough to judge a book by its cover, soon you should be able to easily judge a product that is good for the environment, the U.S. economy and jobs, and doesn’t rely on foreign oil, by looking for a “USDA Biobased” label.

We all know that America imports and consumes a lot of oil, and that over two-thirds of it is used to fuel our cars and trucks. Fewer of us recognize that another 20 percent of our oil is used as raw materials for the manufacture of a variety of products, from paints and solvents to fabrics and plastics, as well as a wide variety of industrial chemicals. But that is starting to change.

Just as we are beginning to displace gasoline with renewable biofuels – almost 10 percent in 2010 – enterprising entrepreneurs across America are beginning to manufacture thousands of materials and products using agricultural and forestry crops and byproducts known as biobased feedstocks. Products such as lotions, cleaning supplies, and a wide variety fabrics and plastics are now being made with natural, biobased ingredients grown in Iowa and across the country.

The benefits of these products are clear: We are saving money and reducing the need for foreign oil by using homegrown biomass instead of imported petroleum; we’re creating new income sources for the farmers who produce these crops; and we’re generating jobs producing biobased feedstocks and manufacturing biobased products. Biobased products hold significant economic opportunities for our rural communities, far too many of which are struggling today. What’s more, we’re spreading the use of these cleaner, more environmentally friendly products throughout our daily lives.

To continue to promote these efforts, last week USDA launched the “Biobased” label to let consumers know when a product is made of biobased ingredients, replacing petroleum-based compounds. Starting in the next month, companies can put the USDA biobased label on their qualifying products so consumers will know what percentage of an item is biobased. That’s especially useful because so many products are manufactured from a variety of materials. In turn, consumer demand for products labeled “Biobased” should provide a major boost to develop and market more of these products, starting an expanding cycle of job creation for both biobased feedstock production and product manufacture and sales.

The new label is just another step that began almost 10 years ago with the 2002 farm bill. As chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, I was proud to establish a biobased product promotion program in the 2002 bill. The program directed the federal government to give a preference to biobased products when it purchases all kinds of goods. Already, USDA has designated about 5,100 biobased products. And as secretary of agriculture, I have encouraged my Cabinet colleagues to increase their procurement, helping substantially increase the federal government’s purchase and use of biobased products.

These efforts are helping to develop and produce biobased products that are made from crops and forests products to replace petroleum. Along with biofuels, biobased products hold tremendous potential to end our addiction to foreign oil while boosting our nation’s economy. We are proud that Iowa is leading the way in this clean jobs strategy that will work for all Americans.


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