AFBF: Improvements needed in USDA hemp rules
Improved testing rules, an expanded testing timeline, and clarity around hemp transportation would help farmers grow and market this new crop, the American Farm Bureau Federation said in comments submitted to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The comments relate to USDA’s Interim Final Rule regulating hemp production nationwide.
In January, farmers and ranchers at AFBF’s Annual Convention voted to support an increase in the allowable THC level in hemp up to 1%. The vote gives AFBF leaders and staff the flexibility to engage in discussions with regulators and lawmakers about the appropriate legal limit on THC.
Current law limits THC content in hemp to 0.3% or below. In addition, regulations require testing to be conducted only on the flower of the plant, despite the harvesting and use of the entire plant.
AFBF is requesting that USDA allow THC testing of the entire plant, including the flower, leaf and stem, to be averaged together. Since hemp’s legalization, there is growing demand for hemp fibers to make everything from clothing to rope and flooring, none of which is impacted by the THC level.
The Interim Final Rule requires plant samples needed for THC testing to be collected within 15 days of the anticipated harvest date. In comments to USDA, AFBF noted this narrow window places an unnecessary burden on farmers, who risk losing their entire crop if they cannot complete harvest in just 15 days, and fails to consider the potential for delayed test results due to a lack of THC testing facilities. AFBF is urging USDA to extend the 15-day window to 45 days before the anticipated harvest date to remove this unfair and expensive burden on farmers.
USDA requires that all THC testing labs be certified by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. With only 44 DEA-certified labs in 22 states to serve hundreds of hemp farmers, many believe testing delays and backlogs are inevitable. According to the USDA, there is one such lab in Georgia – Purisys in Athens. There are four in Florida, including one in Jacksonville, one in South Carolina, two in North Carolina and one in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
However, without a certified lab in each state, hemp growers may have to transport untested samples across state lines to comply with the regulations. However, if the hemp being transported is above the 0.3% THC threshold, farmers will have shipped an illegal product across state lines, opening them up to potential prosecution.
Many states have used private labs with third-party certifications to conduct THC testing, based on guidelines in the 2014 farm bill. These labs are regularly assessed and must meet international performance requirements to maintain certification. AFBF is requesting that USDA allow testing in private labs that have obtained third-party accreditation, to minimize delays and costs to hemp farmers.