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New generic fiber designated: Cargill Dow's PLA Fiber wins approval from FTC. (Capitol Comments).

In a February 1, 2002 Federal Register notice, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced that it would amend Rule 7 of the Textile Fiber Products Identification Act and designate Cargill Dow's PTA the first generic fiber name and definition of the new century. Based on this action, PLA will now serve as the universally recognized name for a synthetic fiber manufactured from a polylactic acid or poly lactate derived from naturally occurring sugars, such as those found in corn or beets. Until now, the Cargill Dow fiber had been identified solely by its trade name, Natureworks.

The FTC designation of PLA as the textile industry's newest generic fiber came in response to an August 28, 2000 petition submitted by Cargill Dow, Minnetonka, MN, requesting that a generic designation be made under Rule 6 of the Textile Fiber Products Identification Act. This rule requires that fiber manufacturers use generic names chosen from a list of FTC-accepted and -approved designations when making fiber content labels for their products.

Cargill Dow's petition contended that PLA could not adequately be described by any of the existing generic names and, therefore, required its own generic name and definition. Cargill Dow originally petitioned the FTC to call this fiber "Synterra" and requested that it be defined as a "manufactured fiber in which the polymer is produced either (a) by the condensation of lactic acid or (b) by ring opening the cyclic dimmer, lactide, in both cases where at least 85% of the primary component is derived from a renewable resource as an integral part of the polymer chain."

Prior to the addition of PLA, the FTC recognized only 23 generic fibers, including familiar names such as cotton, rayon, polyester and spandex, as well as lesser-known fibers, such as azlon, nytril and anidex. This could largely be due to the fact that FTC places stringent standards on fiber manufacturers that wish to obtain a generic designation.

Specially, under FTC regulations, a fiber must meet three separate criteria to gain such a designation: 1) it must have a chemical composition that is radically different from any other designated fiber, resulting in distinctive physical properties of significance to the general public; 2) the fiber must be in active commercial use or such use must be immediately foreseen and 3) there must be some importance in designating a new fiber to the consuming public at large.

With these standards in mind, the FTC conducted an initial analysis of Cargill Dow's petition and, on October 30, 2000, determined there was enough evidence to assign the temporary generic designation "CD 0001" until further evaluation could be conducted. Among other things, this evaluation focused on whether Cargill Dow met FTC's three-pronged criteria.

Not long after the temporary designation was issued, the FTC published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) detailing the technical aspects of the Cargill Dow fiber and seeking public comment on the petition. This NPRM appeared in the November 17, 2001 edition of the Federal Register.

In this NPRM, the FTC pointed out that repeat units of PLA are linked by ester groups, which technically make up the fiber polyester, but the commission also agreed with Cargill Dow's contention that PLA did not adequately fit into the existing definition of polyester. To address this dilemma, the FTC offered three possible options in its NPRM and requested public comment regarding each. Specifically, the commission suggested: 1) broadening its definition of polyester so it accurately included PLA; 2) creating a separate subcategory for PLA within the polyester designation or 3) adding a new generic fiber name and definition for the Cargill Dow fiber--the action that was ultimately taken.

FTC accepted public comment through January 29, 2001 and eight responses were submitted in all. Included in these responses were comments from the National Corn Growers Association, the European Commission (EC), The Wool-mark Company, Interface Research, Dystar, the American Fiber Manufacturers Association (AFMA), the Finnish Standards Association (ESA) and Cargill Dow (through the law firm of Keller and Heckman, LLP).

Of these comments, six supported Cargill Dow's contention that a new generic name and definition were warranted and favored the use of the "Synterra" name. Only one comment suggested that the fiber ought to be listed under the general polyester definition and title.

Yet, despite the fairly widespread support for the Cargill Dow petition, the FTC spent more than a year evaluating these comments and, on February 1, 2002, issued a final rule.

In this final rule, the FTC provides background on the arguments Cargill Dow used in its original petition to substantiate how and why its fiber was able to meet the required criteria. To address the first standard, for instance, the FTC noted that Cargill Dow offered a scientific explanation detailing how PLA's chemical composition makes it unique from all other designated fibers, especially polyester.

According to the FTC, Cargill Dow met this challenge by showing that "...conventional polyester classification defines fibers, which all contain a dominant proportion of aromatic repeat units. In contrast, PLA does not contain any such units. The originating materials for polyester and PLA are vastly different. All present polyesters are produced primarily from hydrocarbon feedstocks (i.e., petroleum). In contrast, PLA is derived completely from annual renewable feedstocks, such as corn, sugar beets and cassava." The FTC accepted this assessment and agreed that Cargill Dow had met the second criteria--whether the fiber was already in commercial use or was going to be used in the near future--based on the fact that Cargill Dow had completed construction on a PLA manufacturing facility in Blair, NE.

Finally, the commission determined that Cargill Dow fulfilled the third part of the criteria--whether the designation of the generic would prove important to the consuming public--based on test results indicating that PLA offers a softer texture than many other fabrics, as well as water resistance, elasticity and shape retention, and can be made from naturally renewable resources. Taken together, according to the FTC, these characteristics make the fiber inherently important to the consuming public.

This is not to say that Cargill Dow's application for a generic designation was approved unconditionally. It wasn't. Based on comments filed by AFMA, FSA and the EC challenging parts of the petition; the FTC made some critical changes, one of the biggest ones being denial of the proposed generic name for the fiber.

Both the AFMA and the EC took issue with Cargill Dow's proposed name, "Synterra." AFMA argued that "Synterra" sounded too much like other trade names including "Sontara" and "Sensura." The EC shared this concern and also pointed out that "Synterra" lacked reference to the chemical composition of the fiber. The FTC found these concerns sufficiently compelling and determined that "PLA" would be a more appropriate designation. Based on this decision, PLA will now be defined as such: "A manufactured fiber in which the fiber-forming substance is composed of at least 85% by weight of lactic acid ester units derived from naturally occurring sugars."

In addition, even though AFMA agreed that PLA is a unique fiber, the association took issue with the fact that the definition suggested by Cargill Dow included the particulars of the manufacturing process. The FTC agreed this was problematic and decided that including the form of manufacture under the fiber's Rule 7 definition would be inappropriate. In making this determination, the FTC cited concerns that such an action could limit future innovation and noted that there is no precedent for including manufacturing processes in these types of designations.

Despite the changes made to its original petition, Cargill Dow is pleased with the FTC's action. In a February 4 statement, Andy Shafer, Cargill Dow's commercial director for fibers noted, "It is a major honor to be recognized as the first new generic classification of the century. Nature Works PLA is truly a revolutionary new fiber for textiles [and] receiving this designation marks a major milestone for Cargill Dow, our customers and the fibers industry."

While winning this designation is a major accomplishment, however, it still remains to be seen if PLA is destined to become the next "big thing" in the world of manufactured fibers. While the fiber clearly has unique features, market acceptance can be fickle, and only time will tell how PLA will be received.

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Peter Mayberry is the director of government affairs for INDA, Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry. He can be reached in care of Mayberry & Associates, LLC at 252 N. Washington Street, Ste. A, Falls Church, VA 22046. Telephone: 703-538-8805; Fax: 703-538-6305; E-mail: His Capitol Comments column appears monthly in NONWOVENS INDUSTRY.
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Title Annotation:Federal Trade Commission rules on fiber made from polylactic acid or poly lactate derived from naturally occurring sugars
Comment:New generic fiber designated: Cargill Dow's PLA Fiber wins approval from FTC. (Capitol Comments).(Federal Trade Commission rules on fiber made from polylactic acid or poly lactate derived from naturally occurring sugars)
Author:Mayberry, Peter; Franken, Jessica
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2002
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