USDA Approves Green, Bio-Based Product Label

American's addiction to oil doesn't stop at the gas pump. A huge array of products — including plastic utensils and trash bags — are made of petroleum. Later this year, a law requires the government to start buying alternative products made of soybeans, corn and other natural ingredients.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And with all the news focused on gas prices, it can be easy to forget that America depends on petroleum for all kinds of products - everything from lip balm to laundry detergent.

Now, the government is pushing nonpetroleum alternatives, as NPR's Elizabeth Shogren reports.

ELIZABETH SHOGREN: The federal government has come up with a new label for what it calls bio-based products. Look for it on trash bags made of corn, building insulation fashioned from wool, and inks and glues made of soy.

Deputy Agriculture Secretary Kathleen Merrigan says people will start seeing the logo this spring.

Ms. KATHLEEN MERRIGAN (Deputy Secretary, U.S. Department of Agriculture): Consumers want to know, with the plethora of labeling claims in the marketplace, that what they're investing their dollars in is meaningful; that it's backed by some sort of certification.

SHOGREN: Companies already have introduced thousands of products made from plants or animals instead of petroleum. That's because of a law that requires the federal government to buy such products - if they exist and are affordable.

Mr. STEPHEN CENSKY (Chief Executive Officer, American Soybean Association): We probably would not see the growth of these products without this program.

SHOGREN: Stephen Censky is the executive director of the American Soybean Association. His group pushed Congress to require the switch.

Mr. CENSKY: That helps drive demand, and then it scales up manufacturing so then it can be available to the general public.

SHOGREN: Using bio-based products is supposed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and dependence on foreign oil. But of course, lots of petroleum goes into fertilizers, tractors and irrigation machines. The government isn't taking that into account when it decides whether a product qualifies for its new label.

Elizabeth Shogren, NPR News, Washington.

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