Sealed With a Curse: Uproar Over USHA Certification Prompts a Do-Over

By William Sumner, Hemp Business Journal Contributor

Earlier this month, the U.S. Hemp Authority (USHA)  announced 13 companies among the first to receive the organization’s quality-assurance certification seal. Claiming to ascertain high standards and promote best practices, USHA’s Certification Program aims to provide hemp farmers, processors, customers and regulators with the confidence that the products bearing the organization’s seal are safe, legal, and made according to good agricultural and manufacturing practices as established by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Yet, while the program was warmly received by the media at large, others in the hemp industry have raised concerns over what they consider to be a “pay-to-play” system that does not necessarily establish standards so high as what the USHA would profess.

In an open letter signed by 18 industry stakeholders, opposition to the program was expressed with regard to three critical issues.

Their first contention was that the program is prohibitively expensive. As described in the USHA’s three-page FAQ, participation fees require hemp companies to pay a $1,395 audit fee plus travel expenses for the auditor. Additionally, participating companies must also pay licensing fees ranging between $500-$2,500 depending on the type of business.

Though the USHA offered scholarships for auditing fees, opponents contend that they are insufficient, and that associated fees for certification discourage small farmers from participating.

Another objection raised in the letter is the USHA certification program’s lack of certain standards which opponents deem vital to quality-driven industries in the United States.

“Having been going through the USDA organic certification process, third-party audits for cGMP compliance, as well as GAP certification, I found real issues with the Hemp Authority certification,” said Janel Ralph, CEO of Palmetto Harmony and one of the 18 opposing signatories. “It was lacking in any basic standard that would be required to be called a ‘certification.’”

For example, the program does not distinguish between imported hemp versus that cultivated domestically in the United States. The program also does not explicitly ban synthetic, or non-hemp-derived CBD from receiving a certification seal. It also excludes ISO 17025 requirements, which govern the general requirements for the competence to carry out laboratory tests and calibrations.

The final issue raised in the letter is that the USHA failed to consult industry experts when crafting the program. Though the USHA invited public commentary, critics allege that its requests for input were primarily circulated within the organization itself and that guidance from the USHA’s board of directors formed the basis of the program.

Responding to the issues raised, the USHA asserts that it is new, revised Guidance Plan 2.0 “will take into account input from farmers and certified companies to further improve the certification.” The USHA added that it is including participation from many of the opponents who spoke out against the original program.

“I have been asked to be part of the technical review committee for the 2.0 version, and am hopeful that this program will become something the industry can be proud of and [that] Palmetto Harmony will participate in once fixed,” said Ralph. “In its current form, we will not pursue this certification.”

William Sumner

William Sumner is a writer for the hemp and cannabis industry. Hailing from Panama City, Florida, William covers various topics such as hemp legislation, investment, and business. William’s writing has appeared in publications such as Green Market Report, Civilized, and MJINews. You can follow William on Twitter: @W_Sumner.