Will US farmers be feeding their animals pot anytime soon?

By Aerin Einstein-Curtis contact

- Last updated on GMT

© iStock/OpenRangeStock
© iStock/OpenRangeStock
As more states in the US legalize the use of cannabis and cannabis products for recreational use, there has been some discussion about its potential benefits as a feed ingredient.

Currently, in the US, eight states and Washington DC have approved the use of marijuana for recreation.

However, there is little clarity about the process that would be needed to address the use of a feed supplement or product that included cannabis that targeted livestock, said Diane Romza-Kutz, partner with Thompson Coburn. 

“The problem with most of the legalization efforts is that they don’t address the veterinary side,”​ she told FeedNavigator. “I don’t recall a single cannabis statute out there that specifically addresses use in animals.”


If a company wanted to include cannabis as a feed additive or ingredient then it would likely have to go through a review by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), said Romza-Kutz.

Scientific data along with information on safety and transportation would be critical in any feed petition related to cannabis, said the regulatory expert.

"The company that can get that first approval, maybe as a medicated feed, may have a heck of a market,​" said Romza-Kutz. 

The FDA has not approved marijuana for any use with animals and previously said that additional studies on safety and effectiveness are necessary. The agency has published a Q&A on the topic - it can be read here​.

That US agency said it is currently collecting information about marijuana and marijuana-derived products being marketed for animals. “[The] FDA reminds consumers that these products have not been evaluated by FDA for safety and effectiveness,"​ said the agency.

Some pet food makers, such as Canna-Pet, have received a warning letter​ ​from the FDA regarding their products, said Romza-Kutz. The agency told the pet food producer its products were "unapproved new animal drugs"​ and its marketing of them violated the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic (FD&C) Act.

Canna-Pet, which uses a hemp cannabinoid compound as an ingredient, had made disease mitigation claims about its products though.  

And Romza-Kutz said producers of cannabis derived animal feed targeted ingredients need to understand that marketing terminology is key to positioning products​ not as drugs, but rather as foods or feeds not subject to the premarket approval process and clinical trial requirements for animal drugs.

New administration

Along with the regulatory barriers, there may be additional challenges for getting cannabis used allowed in feed related to the new US administration, she said.

Trump has spoken about deferring to the state on the issue, she said. But he also nominated Jeff Sessions for attorney general, and he has spoken​ out against cannabis legalization efforts in the past, said Romza-Kurtz.

If companies are interested in moving forward, working with the states that have legalized cannabis may be a good initial strategy, she said.   

Hemp seed in feed  

The US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) recognizes cannabis as a controlled substance, Schedule 1 drug, and does not distinguish between industrial hemp and marijuana, although industrial hemp is genetically and chemically different than marijuana and is not cultivated for the psychoactive drug THC.

Meanwhile, the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) has just published a study​ assessing the feeding of hemp seed products to laying hens. 

Hemp is a variety of Cannabis sativa which is the same plant species as marijuana. The 2014 US Farm Bill defined industrial hemp as 'Cannabis sativa L. and any part of such plant whether growing or not, with delta‐9‐tetrahdrocannabinol (THC) concentration of not more than 0.3% on a dry weight basis'​ and said industrial hemp does not include plants of the genera Cannabis that meet the definition of marijuana.

Based on the findings, WSDA said, due to lack of research related to public health, it is not yet appropriate to move forward with administrative actions to allow commercial feed license holders to include hemp in their formulations for laying hen feed: "Although hemp seed does show good potential as feedstuff, it also may contain trace chemical constituents such as the cannabinoid delta‐9‐tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Health agencies in the US have not established an Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) for THC which is needed to assess the risk to humans consuming eggs from laying hens fed hemp seed products. Although it does not appear the small amount of THC in properly cultivated and processed hemp seed products will pose a safety issue, health agencies in the US have not verified this observation."  

WSDA said it is continually involved in discussions with the American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) on defining hemp seed products in animal feed, not just for Washington State, but also throughout the US. "The regulatory status of hemp appears to be changing rapidly, and it is possible that data needed to determine the safety of hemp seed for laying hens will be available in the near future. If such data becomes available, and if it adequately supports safe use, WSDA will be able to move forward with appropriate administrative actions to allow use of hemp seed products as a laying hen feed ingredient."

Other countries 

In the EU, varieties of hemp cultivated and used for feed must be listed in the EU Official Catalogue of seeds. The varieties of hemp must not have a THC level exceeding 0.2% (EC No. 1124/2008) and the onus is on each EU member state to establish a system of verification for THC in hemp. 

The European Food Safety Authority Panel on Additives and Products or Substances used in Animal Feed (EFSA FEEDAP) found that feeding laying poultry 5 to 7% hemp seed or hemp seed cake is acceptable (EFSA, 2011)​. Additionally, the whole hemp plant can be used as feed materials in EU countries and European Free Trade Association countries (EFSA, 2011).  However, in March of 2005 Switzerland banned feeding hemp products to dairy cows because of concerns for children consuming high amounts of milk from dairy cows (swissinfo.ch, 2005). This prompted an assessment of THC transfer to milk by the EFSA panel on contaminants in the food chain (CONTAM) in 2015.

EFSA's CONTAM panel concluded​ the use of “hemp seed‐derived feed materials at the reported concentrations of use is unlikely to pose a health concern via consumption of milk and dairy products from dairy cows."​ In contrast, for the hemp plant material, they noted: om the use of whole hemp plant‐derived feed materials is currently not feasible due to a lack of occurrence data."

The results of a study, published in Poultry Science​, showed the inclusion of hemp seed or hemp seed oil in the diets of laying hens up to a maximum level of 20 and 12%, respectively, does not adversely effect the performance of laying hens and led to the enrichment of the n-3 fatty acid content of eggs.

Related topics: R&D, North America, Grasses, Regulation

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