Hemp has potential applications in tens of thousands of products, but one market may eventually be a fit for multiple parts of the hemp plant: animal feed.
The road to include any new ingredient in animal feed, however, is arduous, requiring an abundance of data and approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Veterinary Medicine (FDA-CVM).
It’s a mission Hunter Buffington, the executive director of the Hemp Feed Coalition (HFC), has been working on since 2017, years before HFC was formed.
The coalition sprouted from a stakeholder study on hemp in animal feed conducted by the Colorado Department of Agriculture. After publishing an initial report, HFC became a program under the Colorado Hemp Industries Association and Friends of Hemp until earlier this year, when it decided to break off into its own organization. HFC, which is made up of hemp industry stakeholders as well as veterinarians and animal supplement experts, is now pursuing non-profit status.
Despite years of research, only now is the group finally starting to make inroads on its pursuit to include different portions of hemp in feed for different animals. HFC’s partnership with Healthy Oilseeds, an oilseed processing plant based in North Dakota, recently earned the organization an Agricultural Products Utilization Commission (APUC) grant from the North Dakota Department of Agriculture, giving it the boost of funding it needs to finish its first application to include hempseed cake and meal in chicken feed.
Despite working on the application for nearly a year and a half, Buffington says it could still take years for approval.
“It’s really [been] a process. It’s not been done before, so there’s no real groundwork,” Buffington tells Hemp Grower. “Just knowing that we are creating this for the very first time made it so that we really had to slow down and take our time.”
A Lengthy Process
Including any new ingredient in animal feed can be done two ways: by submitting a feed additive petition, which only a manufacturer may do, or by submitting a new ingredient definition, which either a manufacturer or industry representatives may do.
The latter method, which HFC is pursuing, has to be approved not only by the FDA-CVM, but also by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). Buffington says the average approval process can take up to four years, but she is pushing to fast-track the process and cut it down to 18 to 24 months.
Additionally, applications must be submitted for each part of the hemp plant for each animal. For instance, hempseed cake for chickens would be a completely different application than hempseed cake for lambs.
The applications have two main components: clinical animal feed trials for each target species and a detailed analysis of the ingredient itself.
The clinical trials alone have taken years to conduct, Buffington says, partially because they must use hemp that has been grown and processed in the U.S.
“The reality is a lot of the data that FDA-CVM wants to show the ingredient is beneficial nutritionally and is safe...has been really difficult to find because we haven’t been producing this material in the U.S.,” Buffington says. “In the industry, we’re constantly collecting data to find out what’s of concern.”
Buffington says chickens are HFC’s prime target currently because there have been nearly three times as many studies conducted on hemp in their feed. Chickens have a quick life cycle and simpler diet requirements, making them easier and cheaper to study overall.
With nearly 40 studies on hempseed cake and meal fed to chickens—which demonstrate not only general nutritional benefits for chickens, but also that egg-laying hens transfer those omega fatty acids to their eggs—HFC is now wrapping up its nutritional analysis portion of the application.
The analysis must include crude nutritional composition, vitamins, minerals, potential contaminants (including cannabinoids, which are not naturally occurring in hempseed), and fatty acid and amino acid concentrations.
This is where the grant from the North Dakota Department of Agriculture comes into play. HFC’s website says “the grant will lay the groundwork for the HFC to finalize its analysis of hempseed cake and meal and analyze hulls, screenings, pulp from post-CBD extraction, sediment and seed oil below human grade for use as animal feed.”
Buffington says each analysis costs about $2,500 on average.
“And we have to do it five to seven times,” Buffington adds. “That’s in addition to being able to show [AAFCO and the FDA-CVM] 27 data points that this ingredient is consistent.”
While applying to include hempseed cake and meal into chicken feed has taken years, it’s just the beginning of HFC’s pursuits.
The group is currently working with numerous universities across the country to conduct clinical trials of feeding various forms of hemp to chickens, lambs, horses and beef cattle.
”We’re trying to stack our opportunities to get approvals,” Buffington says.
Hempseed cake and meal are also the tip of the iceberg when it comes to hemp’s potential in animal feed. Seed hulls, oil as well as the entire seed are currently being studied for animal feed, and initial research is also in the works for extracted biomass (although the issue of cannabinoids considered as contaminants would come into play here).
Ultimately, Buffington says, including these products into animal feed would both help hemp farmers reduce their waste as well as open up new markets for them to sell into and provide them greater economic opportunities.
And, in addition to hempseed being nutritionally beneficial to animals, including hemp in animal feed would also create a more regenerative farming system.
Buffington says that while the process can be frustrating, industry members can help by submitting any data they have that may help the HFC’s case in future applications for other animals.
“We really want the industry to partner with us to get this work done, and we really can’t do it without the industry being engaged so we can show the [agencies] that this crop …. does grow in every state in the U.S., and there is viable nutritional value,” Buffington says. “Help me help us.”
Email Buffington with data at firstname.lastname@example.org.