The United States Department of Agriculture last week launched a new voluntary labeling program, which could do for bio-based products—products made from farm, forest and ocean materials rather than fossil fuels—what a USDA label did for the organics industry. Consumers who see a “BioPreferred” label will know that at least 25 percent of that product was made from renewable, bio-based materials.

The 25 percent threshold was a drop from an initial proposal of 51 percent. Some critics, such as bio-plastic company Metabolix, have said anything less than 50 percent will lead to greenwashing and undermine the label’s credibility. However, USDA deputy secretary Kathleen Merrigan said the threshold will likely be revisited as the program grows.

The idea for the program began in the 2002 Farm Bill, and Congress has since been pushing USDA to find a way to increase the sale and use of bio-based products, both within the federal government and among public consumers, explained Merrigan during a media briefing. She said the federal government already has a list of about 5,100 bio-based products for preferred purchasing.

“But government, again, cannot be the main purchaser,” she said. “We need to make bio-based products a nationwide industry. So that’s why we are working to development government and public markets through this voluntary labeling program, so folks can know what they are purchasing when they are trying to buy, whether it’s a cleaning product or bedding or towels. Even towels made from sustainable eucalyptus fibers, for example, is just one of the options that will be out in the market.”

Consumers can expect to start seeing the logo, which features a sun, field and water motif, in markets this spring.