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Biobased Products: The Government’s Choice?

June 2, 2016

Originally published by Michigan Farm News on May 6, 2016; republished with permission.

In late April, the Michigan House of Representatives approved a bill intended to help support Michigan farmers. House Bill 4850 was introduced by state Rep. Jason Sheppard (R-Temperance) to add products certified as biobased by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to the list of items given preference when purchased for state government. The 2015-2016 budget already gives preferences to biobased products, and this bill codifies the practice into law.

The term “biobased products” was defined in 2002 by the United States Secretary of Agriculture in the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act to mean a commercial or industrial product (other than food or feed) that is composed of biological products, renewable domestic agricultural materials, forestry materials , or an intermediate feedstock. The 2002 farm bill also introduced the USDA BioPreferred program to identify and seek new markets for biobased products as well as detailing the Federal Procurement Program and the Voluntary Labeling Program. Some agricultural resources that make up biobased products are soybeans, corn, flax and jute. These crops are used to create corn-based ethanol, soy-based lubricants and bioplastics, among other products. On a state level, giving preference to these products when making government purchases helps Michigan farmers who produce large amounts of soybeans and corn. Corn-based ethanol is one of the leading alternative fuel sources in the U.S., according to the Renewable Fuels Association, and the vast majority of this energy source is produced by Midwestern farms.

Another major benefit is that biobased products are not petroleum-based. This makes them environmentally friendly in terms of biodegradability, toxicity, and pollution. According to the Michigan Soybean Association, bio-based products offer the following benefits to humans and the environment:

  • Lower toxicity than petroleum products
  • Similar performance to their toxic counterparts
  • Reduce volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which pose dangers to human health and the environment both as indoor air pollutants and outdoor air pollutants
  • Reduce exposure to hazardous chemicals
  • Are made from domestically produced, abundant, renewable resources rather than relying on petroleum, which helps reduce demand for imported oil

There are currently a number of initiatives in the state to further explore and develop the uses of soybeans. For example, soybean research at Michigan State University is exploring modified soybean oil variety development, and the Soy Aquaculture Alliance is beginning to promote soy in marine and freshwater fish feeds as a renewable fishmeal resource to meet the growing demands for fish protein. In addition to potential economic support to Michigan farmers, House Bill 4850 may encourage ongoing research and prompt additional research into the use of biobased products. 

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