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Hemp in Pet Food: Not So Fast Say 16 Industry Organizations

The National Animal Supplement Council and other industry organizations call for further scientific study of hemp before allowing it in animal feed.

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SINCE THE PASSAGE of the 2018 Agricultural Improvement Act (“Farm Bill”), interest in the use of hemp in commercial animal feed has skyrocketed. The Farm Bill legalized growing hemp, but inclusion of hemp in animal feed remains under the jurisdiction of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and state regulatory programs for commercial animal feed. However, proponents of hemp in animal feed and products regulated as feed, such as treats, have lobbied state policymakers to consider legislation allowing in-state use of hemp as a feed ingredient before the completion of comprehensive scientific research at the national level to affirm the safety of hemp for animals, and before necessary review of the ingredient by the FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine.

In September 2021, the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) published a position paper warning that bringing hemp products to market in animal feed through a patchwork of state laws could lead to inconsistent manufacturing guidelines, unsupported marketing claims across the country, and even restrict interstate and international markets for products. AAFCO urged states to work within the formal review and approval process of hemp and hemp byproducts for animal nutrition rather than bypassing these reviews to bring products to market sooner.

Concerned that AAFCO’s position on this issue was not resonating, on Feb. 9, AAFCO and 16 industry organizations cooperated to publish an open joint letter of concern urging state leaders and decision-makers in agriculture to support research and education to ensure the safe use of hemp as an animal feed ingredient, stating that “It is simply too soon to know whether hemp is safe for farm and ranch animals, as well as for our pets. Our goal is for more research to ensure the safety and well-being of the public, our animals and our agricultural industry.”

The letter’s signers understand the robust interest in supporting the hemp industry, but want agricultural leaders, lawmakers and industry participants to avoid supporting legal or administrative changes at the state level instead of working through the same defined regulatory pathways required for every other animal feed ingredient. Support of research through universities or private labs will help to ensure that the safety and utility of hemp can be fully understood before it is allowed for these commercial purposes.

The National Animal Supplement Council (NASC) was among the letter’s signers and supports AAFCO’s position that additional research on hemp and hemp byproducts is needed and that industry participants should assemble data and submit applications for approval through the established animal feed ingredient review process. While NASC does not believe hemp poses an undue risk in animals or people, we do support the established processes.

A potential consequence of acting at the state level rather than nationally is if state actions create individual requirements, say for labeling, this creates a burden for suppliers because it is simply not possible to label or segregate shipments for specific states. This will impact retailers when products they want to carry are not availaable in their state. National consistency is another of AAFCO’s strategic objectives that the NASC supports.

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Bill Bookout is president, board chairman and a founding member of the National Animal Supplement Council. He has held executive positions in the animal health and human medical device industries. Bookout earned his BSc in physical sciences from University of Wyoming and his MBA from the Pepperdine University Presidents and Key Executives MBA program.

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