USDA to label more biobased products after report finds $369 billion in industry

By Whitney Forman-Cook

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, June 17, 2015 - An economic impact analysis released Wednesday by the USDA's BioPreferred Program found that U.S. biobased products, such as biofuels and renewable chemicals, contribute $369 billion and 4 million jobs to the country's economy.

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Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said following the release of the report that he would be creating additional opportunities for growth in renewable plant-based materials through changes to the BioPreferred Program, which is supported with 2014 Farm Bill dollars.

USDA is “adding to the number of innovative products carrying the BioPreferred® label and expanding options for our nation's biorefineries,” Vilsack said in a press release. “This means small businesses and global companies alike can continue to harness the power of America's farms and forests to create new and innovative biobased products that are used all around the world."

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Under the new rules, new forest products that meet biobased content requirements and mature market products with a significant market share prior to 1972 will be included in the program and may carry the USDA BioPreferred label. Currently, the program recognizes 14,000 biobased products in 97 categories.

Elements of the Biorefinery Assistance Program, which supports development in the sector by providing loan guarantees of up to $250 million for biorefineries and biobased product manufacturing facilities, will also change, Vilsack said.

After a new rule is published in the Federal Register next week, biorefineries that receive assistance through the program may produce more renewable chemicals and other biobased products, and not primarily advanced biofuels.

Biobased product manufacturing facilities would be eligible to convert renewable chemicals and other biobased outputs of biorefineries into "end-user" products. The new regulations also implement a streamlined application process for the assistance program, USDA said.

According to the report, which was commissioned by USDA's BioPreferred Program and authored by university professors, each job in the U.S. biobased products industry generates 1.64 jobs in other sectors. The report found in 2013, the industry supported 1.5 million jobs directly, 1.1 million jobs in related industries indirectly, and 1.4 million jobs in the retail of biobased products.

The report also found that the use of an estimated 40,000-biobased products on the market in the U.S. displaces about 300 million gallons of petroleum - the equivalent of taking 200,000 cars off the road - every year. And seven sectors - agriculture and forestry, biorefining, biobased chemicals, enzymes, bioplastic bottles and packaging, forest products and textiles - are the primary producers of bioproducts in the U.S.

Lloyd Ritter, co-director of the Ag Energy Coalition, a consortium of organizations and companies in the sustainable energy and bioproducts sector, applauded the agency's move.

“The BioPreferred Program enables biobased product manufacturers to distinguish their products in the marketplace, using a label that identifies the percentage of renewable content,” Ritter said, “(and) under the new rules, more biobased products will be eligible for this program.”

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