The organic certification of hemp has been a confusing and sometimes controversial topic. Certification of hemp is relatively new in the United States and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has changed their stance on hemp certification many times. The ambiguity of organic hemp has perplexed both hemp farmers and consumers for the past few years.
As a consumer of hemp-derived CBD, you may be wondering: should hemp be certified organic? Let’s discuss the timeline of hemp certification and the controversy surrounding organic hemp.
Can Hemp be Certified Organic?
Under the 2014 Farm Bill, institutions of higher education and state departments of agriculture are authorized to establish industrial hemp research pilot programs in states where the production of industrial hemp is legal. The Farm Bill allowed for these pilot programs to exist but did not provide implementation details for agencies such as the USDA. This gave agencies like the USDA room for interpretation.
This may be cleared up by the 2018 Farm Bill, but that is currently unclear.
At first, a directive from the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) staff allowed hemp to be certified organic by third-party agents. Once a third-party agent is accredited, it has the authority to approve or deny applications for organic certification. Then, in February 2016, the USDA reversed their decision. At the time, a handful of hemp farms had secured or were in the process of securing, certifications from accredited third-parties.
“Organic certification of industrial hemp production at this time is premature and could be misleading to certified organic operations,” read a USDA statement. “The legality of the various uses of this product has not yet been determined. Until USDA guidance regarding industrial hemp production under the Farm Bill is completed, NOP-accredited certifying agents may not certify the domestic production of industrial hemp.”
This change left farms that secured the certification in a state of uncertainty. It also delegitimatized the legality of hemp, which goes against the 2014 Farm Bill.
To clarify their stance, the USDA, along with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), released a Statement of Principles on Industrial Hemp in August 2016. Under this statement, industrial hemp produced in the United States may be certified as organic if produced in accordance with USDA organic regulations.
It appears the Statement of Principles currently allows the certification of organic hemp. However, organic hemp certification is a bit more complicated than it appears on paper. There is also a possible bias as it is not clear if the USDA is adhering to the 2014 Farm Bill or is influenced by the DEA, which tries to regulate some constituents of industrial hemp as it does marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).
Additionally, the barriers surrounding organic certification are high. With USDA organic certification for industrial hemp, there are opportunities, challenges, and rigorous requirements. It can take years for a farm to receive organic certification and costs to go through the certification process range in the thousands.
So, Should Hemp be Organic?
At this time, not necessarily. An organic certification is not the only indication of quality grown hemp products.
We know it is possible for hemp to be grown at a high standard without having an organic certification because European farms have been growing high-quality hemp for many years without such. Hemp farmers without organic certification can still grow under high standards and without the use of pesticides, herbicides, and chemicals.
When researching the quality of a hemp product, it is most important to inquire about farming practices and extraction methods. In the future, hemp certification may be a major indicator of quality, but for now, we should focus on other indicators of quality. A certificate of analysis (COA), which confirms the cannabinoid levels of a CBD product, is an accessible way for consumers to confirm a product’s label is accurate.
What the Future Holds
It is our hope that the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill, which includes the Hemp Farming Act of 2018, will clarify any legal “grey area” surrounding hemp. With the passing of this bill, agencies like the USDA and DEA will have no room for interpretation of the law. If passed, the Hemp Farming Act of 2018 will clarify the absolute legality of hemp.
We can aid in the passing of legislation such as the Hemp Farming Act of 2018 by voting in local and state elections. Additionally, with the following link, you can contact your senators and congresspersons and urge them to support the Hemp Farming Act of 2018.