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USDA biobased product label may mislead consumers: MWV

By Katie Nichol , 07-Feb-2011
Last updated the 07-Feb-2011 at 12:02 GMT

Packaging company MWV has said that the recently launched biobased product label from the USDA, for which products such as lip balms and hand creams are eligible, could mislead consumers.

“The main point of concern is that it will add to consumer confusion over marketing claims,” Laura Rowell, Director of Sustainable Packaging at MWV, told CosmeticsDesign.com USA.

The USDA biobased product logo is designed to help consumers make informed purchase decisions, and the first products bearing the label are expected to hit store shelves within the first half of 2011.

Mature market products excluded

In order to be eligible for the label, a product must meet the USDA’s definition of a biobased product and have a minimum biobased content of 25 per cent.

Biobased products, according to the USDA, include commercial or industrial products, the main ingredients of which are renewable plant, animal, marine or forestry materials.

Mature market products (which the USDA defines as those that had a significant market share in 1972) are excluded from the labeling program, as the intention is to encourage production of new biobased products and boost emerging markets for those products.

Need for clarification

According to Rowell, consumers looking at a mature market biobased product will have no idea why it is not (or can not be) certified as biobased by the USDA.

“The USDA has a unique definition of biobased which consumers don’t understand, and the fact that the biobased label only applies to emerging market products is not disclosed [on the label],” she explained. “The label could create an artificial definition of what is biobased, and if this definition is not communicated to consumers it could be misleading”.

Rowell said there is also a need for clarification as to whether the label refers to the product itself or the product packaging, as this aspect could be unclear to consumers.

However, Rowell notes that with the exception of PLA, which is an emerging market product, none of the packaging used today meets the criteria for USDA’s biobased label.

“Most packaging is fibre based and no paperboard can qualify, nor can plant-based plastics, as they are defined as mature market products,” she said.

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