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Organic Labeling: Another Hurdle for Hemp

Nicole Erwin, WKMS

Hemp has been used legally for years in products that display the US Department of Agriculture’s Organic Seal--as long as those products are imported. Any hemp based product originating from a domestic crop is banned from carrying this same organic certification. Kentucky Department of Agriculture Officials have said such a ban is a discriminatory act.

With more than 30 states now growing industrial hemp as part of the 2014 Farm Bill’s Section 7606 provision, the legal status of the plant still resides as a Schedule 1 Controlled Substance. Since the legality of hemp’s status varies based on a state’s decision to participate in the pilot program, concern with potential confusion prompted the USDA’s National Organic Program to prohibit the certification of domestic crops all together.

On February 16th, 2016 the Kentucky Department of Agriculture received a letter banning all agents from certifying any domestically produced hemp as organic.  Kentucky Department of Agriculture Director of Plant Marketing Brent Burchett says the letter notified the KDA that the NOP program in conjunction with industrial hemp is “at this time premature.”

“The guidance that came out from USDA says that Organic Certification of Industrial Hemp production at this time is premature and could be misleading to certified organic operations given that the legality of the various uses of this product has not yet been determined. Until USDA guidance regarding industrial hemp production or the Farm Bill is complete NOP accredited certifying agents may not certify the domestic production of industrial hemp.”

According to Burchett the Kentucky Department of Agriculture was “troubled” by the letter and responded on Feb 25th, 2016 and asked for clarification about “ what was the justification, and in our view this may be a violation of the existing NOP law.”

The KDA has received a phone call stating that the NOP is working on new information.

Burchett said it is too late for any changes in the 2016 crop calendar for participants to benefit and a decision for the 2017 hemp crop is needed soon.

“We hope that is something that is resolved with our partnership with our federal delegation. We know that Senator McConnell’s office and Senator Paul’s office and some of our house representative members are aware of this issue and are working on a federal solution. In the meantime we tell all our participants in the front end they are not allowed to spray anything and at the same time are not allowed to sell their as certified USDA organic,” said Burchett.

Burchett believes farmers are being unfairly penalized because they're having to use organic methods but not able to capture the market premium of having a certified organic crop.  

In an email response from an inquiry regarding when hemp farmers, university participants and state ag agencies might have an answer, the the USDA’s Sam Jones-Ellard gave the following response:

“The 2014 Farm Bill allows for the production of industrial hemp under certain specific criteria. USDA is working with its Federal interagency colleagues to develop a U.S. government interpretation of the Farm Bill provision. Until then, USDA is not in a position to determine whether industrial hemp is being produced in accordance with the Farm Bill.”

Kentucky Dep. of Ag Clarification Letter

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