Things just got a little better, and a lot more confusing.
The United States Department of Agriculture is launching, come February 21, its new “USDA Certified Biobased Product” labeling program.
While this sounds good, and may eventually be, critics are already at best wary and at worst dismissive.
Consumer Ally recently posted a cautionary explanation of how the label might be a lot less than it appears, thus leading consumers to think they are getting more, and doing better, than they are. They report that to be eligible for USDA certification, only 25% of the product needs to be made from biobased (renewable) resources.
And they tell us what the USDA tells us in its announcement as well:
USDA’s BioPreferred program was created by the 2002 Farm Bill to increase the purchase and use of biobased products within the Federal government and the commercial market.
The biobased certification program is the second stage of the BioPreferred program. (Think EnergyStar for the food industry.) While it is critical to support our farming sector, one would have hoped that this green initiative would be equally motivated by a desire to encourage our farming industry to adopt more sustainable farming practices; to protect the quality of our soil and water; to grow healthier foods; to rebuild the natural fertility of our soil; to protect and preserve the woodlands and forests that are increasingly targeted for development into more farmlands.
As concerned consumers, we need to know what we are buying. And we need a scorecard to help us know. But we also need to know who is putting together the scorecard, and what their criteria and motivations are.
Please check out Consumer Ally’s critique, and the links they provide.
Check out other green awareness organizations such as Green America, as well as efforts by concerns such as Walmart to create a way to measure the Life Cycle impact of a product - from creation to disposal/recycling. And the all-encompassing, socially and environmentally responsible, emerging certification of Magen Tzedek.
In another decade or so, this will all be standardized and ironed-out. But for the moment, the educated consumer still has lots of work to do.