Growing concerns prompt senators to urge USDA to adopt new hemp rules

By Danielle Masterson contact

- Last updated on GMT

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Related tags: Hemp, hemp extracts, Usda, Agriculture, regulations, Cannabis, DEA, Farm Bill

Sparked by proposed US Department of Agriculture regulations that would drastically alter the certification process for industrial hemp, two lawmakers from Oregon want the agency to make several changes before it finalizes rules for the US Domestic Hemp Production Program.

Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley are sounding the alarm over what they call "unintended and potentially harmful effects"​ of the agency's interim hemp rule. 

In a letter​ sent to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, the democratic senators underscored concerns that could impact industrial hemp production. 

“We appreciate USDA’s commitment to hemp producers across the United States, and are pleased by your efforts to grow and support domestic hemp production. Farmers in Oregon and across the country are on the precipice of an agricultural boom that, with the right regulatory framework, stands to boost rural economies in every corner of the country,”​ the senators wrote.

'Compre-hemp-sive' research 

Recognizing the crops potential, Oregon State University unveiled what it calls the nation’s largest hemp research center in June. Dr. Alan Sams, dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences, heads the Global Hemp Innovation Center​ at Oregon State University. The first of its kind, the research center will serve as a hub that connects faculty and researchers engaged in plant research, food innovation, pharmacy, public health, public policy, business and engineering. 

Sams told NutraIngrdients-USA that the letter from the senators further supports the efforts he believes are necessary to advance research and understanding of this new agricultural commodity. “The hemp industry is still quite young and any efforts made to improve the ability of growers, researchers and others to establish the industry more effectively is welcomed. We are in full support of the work both Senators Wyden and Merkley have done to foster the hemp industry in Oregon and beyond.”

“As more advances are made in developing structure – whether through a hemp commodity commission here in Oregon, or if there are more federal guidelines established – the better we will be able to be positioned to do the highest level of scientific research aimed at helping to advance the potential of hemp and this burgeoning new industry.”

Making the case

Based on feedback from Oregon farmers, researchers and regulators, Wyden and Merkley offered up several remedies. They requested that the USDA extend the timeline for testing before and after harvest to a more realistic time frame. The letter cites concerns that the proposed requirement of 15 days will be an impossible hurdle for growers to overcome and encouraged the USDA to adopt Oregon's standard for crop testing, which is within 28 days of harvest. 

They also hope to remove the requirement that testing labs must be registered by the Drug Enforcement Administration, as hemp is a legal commodity and not subject to DEA regulations, thanks to the 2018 Farm Bill. The letter stated the lab rule would cause producers to experience "tremendous bottlenecks and unnecessary delays.”

Additionally, The USDA wants to change the standard to testing measuring to "total THC.” Currently, Oregon tests for "delta-9" THC alone. The senators argue against “total THC,” as some cannabis that once qualified as hemp could exceed the 0.3%. If the level exceeds 0.3%, the hemp would be considered a controlled substance and the plants will have to be disposed of.

Lastly, the USDA interim rule states that farmers can be found negligent if their hemp crop exceeds 0.5% THC. Wyden and Merkley argue that is a far too low and requested the negligence threshold be greater than 1% THC.

"A reasonably prudent hemp producer could take the necessary steps and precautions to produce hemp, such as using certified seed, using seed that has reliably grown compliant plants in other parts of the country and engaging in other best practices, yet still produce hemp plants that exceed this 0.5% THC concentration,” ​the letter states. 

Wyden and Merkley concluded by saying, “We look forward to careful consideration of our recommendations.”

“This is a step in the right direction and it recognizes the importance of bringing some structure and systems to this industry,"​ Sams told NutraIngredients-USA. "Aligning the financial, legal, social and agricultural considerations with the food, fiber and health product innovations will continue to be particularly complicated.  That makes clear policy that is not overly burdensome at the state and federal level so critical and underscores the importance of the work being done by the senators."

USDA seeks feedback 

The USDA is currently accepting public comments on its proposed regulations for hemp. Stakeholders will have the opportunity to weigh in on the interim final rule through December 30.

As of late, federal agencies have solicited public comments for several cannabis-related issues. Recently the Environmental Protection Agency asked for input on hemp pesticides and the DEA sought input on its proposed increase on a marijuana cultivation quota for research.

Related topics: Regulation, CBD / Hemp

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