Hemp Seed as Animal Feed Offers Potential Despite Obstacles

By Trevor Yahn-Grode, Data Analyst, New Frontier Data

Hemp seed is an attractive candidate to roll into the $27.8 billion global animal feed market, but more research is required to ascertain the safety and efficacy of hemp and its byproducts as animal feed before it will gain regulatory approval as an ingredient. U.S. acreage of grain-based hemp continues to grow, as farmers supplant imported seed with domestic stock. Virtually all the current acreage is dedicated to producing hemp seed for human consumption.

Hemp seed’s nutritional profile and protein content have in recent years gained it popularity in health food circles. Hopes that its benefits could be passed onto livestock are fueling the desire for its use in animal feed.  One study found that chickens being fed hemp seed could produce enriched eggs with a high n-3 fatty acid content.

For hemp to be used in animal feed, it must be approved by the FDA-Center for Veterinary Medicine, which involves a long, arduous, and expensive process. Although hemp seed – which contains no CBD – has achieved Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) status from the FDA for human consumption, hemp seed is not permitted in animal feed because the potential for cannabinoid accumulation in meat and milk has not been studied. Critics of that policy point out that cannabinoids exist mainly in the flower and stem of the plant, and no significant cannabinoid content exists in the seed. Multiple industry groups (such as the Hemp Feed Coalition [HFC]) are working to fund clinical feed trials and nutritional analyses in attempts to prove the safety and efficacy of hemp as animal feed.

Due to the high price of hemp seed compared to traditional feedstocks (e.g., corn and soy), hemp seed is more likely to first find its foothold as a premium feedstock for niche livestock production. Even so, opening the animal feed markets up to hemp would make hemp grain a significantly more attractive crop for farmers to grow, as it would broaden the total addressable market and reduce the risk of unsold crops. According to Hunter Buffington, executive director of the HFC, “hemp has been an animal feed across the world for millennia because of its nutritional content and availability. As we enter the world hemp market, American farmers again have the ability to produce hemp and utilize its by-products to create healthy, regenerative feed sources.”