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September/October 2011

Biobased Products

I am writing in regard to the photo accompanying the article “ASTM Provides Certification Services for USDA’s BioPreferred Program” in the May/June issue of SN.

One of the problems we face with the BioPreferred program, brought on by the massive amount of corn used to make ethanol and the use of soybeans to make biodiesel, is that some make the false argument that we are taking food out of the mouths of hungry children to make biofuels. And this argument transfers to the bioproducts arena where we play.

Only the sugar from corn is used to make either ethanol or bioplastics. The protein remains and is used as animal feed. It is called distillers dried grain. Thus the food versus feed argument being made by some is not relevant.

However, the corn shown in the very beautiful photo is definitely sweet corn, which is grown for human consumption. Had the corn in the photo been the typical dried yellow ear it would have been correct.

The photo depicts wheat, also a food crop. Straw from the wheat is not food, however, and is being used to make building products, for instance. There are some starch-based bioproducts, but in many cases this starch is cheap, low quality and gleaned from potato or other processing waste, for instance.

The soybeans in the forefront of the photo are another story. Here we use the soy oil, which used to be a byproduct, to make lubricants, polymers and other finished products. In this case the food value is in the meal which is not impacted. And most processed foods these days have some soy protein extender.

Ron Buckhalt
Program Manager, BioPreferred® program, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Washington, D.C.