Courtesy of U.S.D.A
usda biobased product

Product labels can often deceive (fat-free candy, anyone?) and confuse more than they clarify, but a new seal intended to lead Americans to more healthier, plant-based choices is looking to change that.

Now in effect, the voluntary U.S.D.A. Certified Biobased Product seal verifies the percentage of biologically grown ingredients in a consumer or wholesale product (including construction material, household cleaner, ink, bedding, and many types of personal care products) which must also meet or exceed a minimum given percentage in its category to qualify for the marker. (To see a list of all the categories and requirements, click here.)

The label is part of the U.S.D.A.’s BioPreferred Program, which in addition to encouraging consumers to buy biobased products, also puts products that tout the seal on a preferred list for purchase by federal agencies and contractors. It’s thought that by increasing demand for biobased products, “green” jobs will be created and other manufacturers will begin to offer more biobased and biodegradable products in order to remain competitive.

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Eco-conscious brand Seventh Generation, which sells personal care and home cleaning products, recently launched the label on its entire line of products (of which the bar soap and diaper cream are 100 percent bio-based) at an event in New York where acclaimed Ayurvedic expert Deepak Chopra, MD, and The Breast Cancer Fund CEO Jeanne Rizzo spoke on the importance of cutting down on petrochemicals in favor of more biobased ingredients in personal care products.

“Petrochemicals come from petroleum. They’re degreasers for gears, and they can take the paint off your garage door. Those same petrochemicals make lipstick stay on and body lotions feel softer,” said Rizzo, who added she is most concerned with the repeat dosage the average American is exposed to by using upwards of 20 to 30 petroleum-rich products a day.

An endocrinologist by specialty, Dr. Chopra added, “Petrochemicals introduce inflammation into the body. There’s not a disease that doesn’t have inflammation involved. They also disrupt the body’s hormonal and steroidal systems, with interfere with genetic activity…and its effects are much more obvious in women because of the menstrual cycle and potential damage to the fetus.”

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Yet others are wary of the new seal that requires only 25 percent of personal care products be biobased in order to qualify, and say that consumers should always read labels to get the full story. “To a consumer, this could be highly misleading, as they may purchase a product with this seal expecting a natural and safe product and not realize that up to 75 percent of the ingredients could still be petrochemical-based,” says Kim Anderson, President of Ava Anderson Non-Toxic, a line developed by her teenage daughter Ava that is entirely free of toxic ingredients. “Consumers should always read labels and not buy just based on seals.”

Indeed, the BioPreferred Program is meant to encourage demand for biobased ingredients on a macro level, which ideally would have a beneficial snowball effect leading to even lower amounts of petrochemicals over time, and perhaps higher minimums. But it will take baby steps to get there.