News Feature | June 29, 2015

USDA Program Promotes Use Of Plant-Based Materials

By Isaac Fletcher, contributing writer, Food Online

USDA Use Of Plant-Based Materials

In order to foster sustainability and environmentally-friendly practices throughout the country, the USDA is extending a program that encourages the use of plant-based materials for various food manufacturing practices.

The USDA has announced that it will be expanding a program designed to encourage the use of ethanol and biodiesel fuels to companies that are making use of plant-based plastics, rubbers, and fibers in manufacturing. The goal behind expanding this program is to promote the use of plant-based packaging and materials throughout various manufacturing industries.

The USDA is planning to introduce a new agency rule to the program that will add manufacturers of plant-based packaging products to a loan guarantee program that has provided roughly $844 million for 10 biofuel projects over the last seven years. Once being added into the loan guarantee program, companies building new plants will be allowed to borrow money at reduced interest rates. Projects that involve the development of plant-based manufacturing materials will be eligible to receive loans of up to $250 million. The rule, which was authorized in last year’s farm bill, became final on June 23.

Initiated by President Obama, the governmental program is intended to promote the replacement of petroleum in plastic, rubber, and fiber with plant-based materials. According to a recent USDA report, the plant-based materials industry was responsible for the creation of four million jobs and contributed $369 million the U.S. economy during 2013. The report also highlights that the plant-based materials industry has displaced 300 million gallons of petroleum a year, the equivalent of taking 200,000 cars off the road. With advancements in technology and rising sustainability concerns, plant-based manufacturing has been steadily accelerating over the last decade.

Related: What’s Happening With Bioplastics In Food And Beverage Packaging?

The BioPreferred program, established in the 2002 Farm Bill, has been a driving factor in developing bio-materials by requiring that, when possible, government agencies purchase products created with plant-based materials. Additionally, the program includes a labeling initiative which identifies over 2,200 products that the USDA has certified as bio-based materials.

Tom Vilsack, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, explains that the expansion of the program is part of President Obama’s initiative to revitalize and modernize rural economy, saying, “This is, I think, the beginning of a very exciting opportunity for rural America, the beginning of an opportunity to attract manufacturing to rural communities, to add additional market opportunities for those who grow and raise crops and products in the U.S.”