USDA Invites Additional Public Comments Per Hemp IFR Till October 8 (Part 2)

By William Sumner, Hemp Content Manager, New Frontier Data

Recently, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that it would reopen the comment period for its interim final rule (IFR) per hemp regulations. Seeking additional input from industry stakeholders, the USDA hopes to gain feedback regarding 12 specific issues.

In the second of a two-part series, the Hemp Business Journal breaks down the final six areas that the USDA is seeking commentary about, outlining the mitigating issues and some of the changes which stakeholders have suggested. Read Part 1 here.

7: Hemp Seedlings, Microgreens, and Clones

Though the 2018 Farm Bill and the IFR outline rules and regulations for hemp sampling and testing, one area that fell between the cracks of the regulations were facilities that grow hemp plants, but not to maturity and without mature flowers. The USDA wants to know how it should regulate those facilities. One possible approach suggested was that they require said facilities to become licensed, but not require them to undergo the same testing and sampling procedures required of traditional hemp producers.

8: Hemp Breeding and Research

Rules regarding hemp breeders and researchers represent another blind spot ignored by the IFR and Farm Bill. The USDA wants to continue to encourage hemp research and breeding, but it wants to do so in a responsible manner. The USDA is considering whether to require individual employees to gain licensure, and whether breeding/research facilities should have procedures for disposing of noncompliant hemp plants. They are also considering granting exemptions to research facilities from adhering to traditional testing and sampling guidelines.

9: Sampling Methodology – Whole Plant vs. Flower

Under the IFR, testing samples are taken from the flower of the hemp plant, where much of the plant’s THC is concentrated. Previous comments have suggested that the regulation should be changed to allow samples to come from a composite sample of the entire hemp plant, including flowers, stems, stalks, and potentially seeds. The department is seeking comments about both whole-plant sampling methodology and whether to require specific requirements for the length of each sample. The USDA is also seeking guidance on milling, (i.e., preparation of a hemp sample prior to laboratory analysis).

10: Sampling Methodology – Homogenous Composition, Frequency, and Volume

Current sampling requirements outlined by the IFR fail to account for differences between different strands or end uses of hemp plants. The USDA is considering changing the number of samples required to be collected and/or to establish sampling requirements based on end use and risk. For example, hemp plants grown for fiber would be subject to different testing/sampling regulations than would hemp plants grown for CBD.

11: Sampling Agents

The department is currently considering whether to require more extensive training for its sampling agents. While agents are required to complete a basic training model, the USDA is considering whether to require each one to complete an online training module administered by AMS (Agricultural Marketing Services) and pass an examination, as well as whether to let states develop their own training programs. Other points of consideration include the content of sampling agent training, the frequency with which training should occur, and whether there should be a national list of trained sampling agents.

12: DEA Laboratory Registration

One of the most controversial aspects of the IFR is the requirement that hemp testing labs must be registered with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). The requirement was quickly suspended once it became apparent that there were too many cultivators and not enough registered labs to meet the demand. The USDA is seeking input as to whether they should keep, amend, or completely remove the DEA-registered lab requirements, as well as consider what should be done if the requirement is removed.

The comment period on the USDA’s IFR is open until October 8;interested parties may submit comments online.