A proposed rule requiring the government to choose environmentally friendly bio-based products over their manmade counterparts has the potential to significantly booster demand for agricultural products, says Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman.

“This program will have many benefits for the environment as well as farmers and ranchers. It will help agricultural producers provide for more of our government procurement needs in an environmentally friendly way,” Veneman said.

Established by the energy title of the 2002 farm bill, the Federal Bio-based Procurement Program will improve environmental health by using renewable resources to produce products that have been previously derived from fossil energy sources, according to Veneman. The Federal Bio-based Procurement Program was authorized by Section 9002 of the 2002 farm bill. It requires all federal agencies, including the Department of Defense, to greatly increase use of bio-based products.

The procurement program does not apply to electricity or motor vehicle fuels. That means it will not enlarge the market for ethanol or biofuels. It does, however, include inks, lubricants, construction materials, fiber, and paper packing materials.

When fully implemented, the program will require federal agencies to greatly increase their use of bio-based industrial products. That increase is expected to contribute to the development of a broad range of new bio-based products. Agencies will be required to purchase bio-based industrial products whenever their cost is not substantially higher than fossil energy based alternatives, when bio-based industrial products are available and when bio-based industrial products meet the performance requirements of the federal user, USDA says.

USDA's proposed rule details the process by which the Department of Agriculture will designate “items,” which are generic groupings of similar bio-based products, such as hydraulic and transmission fluids. To designate an item, USDA must obtain and make available information such as availability, relative price, performance, and environmental and public health benefits for the items and bio-based materials designated for preferred procurement. Items will be designated through subsequent regulations.

Once an item is designated, every manufacturer and vendor producing and marketing products contained within that item are eligible for preferred procurement status when marketing their products to federal agencies. Manufacturers must certify that the bio-based content in their products is consistent with the statutory definition of bio-based products. They must also certify that they have had third-party testing of the bio-based content, according to USDA.

Interested parties were given 60 days from Dec. 19, 2003, to submit comments on the proposed rule, which can be read in its entirety at www.biobased.oce.usda.gov/.


e-mail: dmuzzi@primediabusiness.com