USDA Announces Domestic Grown Hemp Can’t Be Labelled Organic

In a new set of instructions meant to guide third party auditors, the U.S. Department of Agriculture directs against certifying American grown hemp as organic.

After briefly looking like it was on board for hemp cultivators applying for organic status, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reversed position this February, halting organic approvals for several hemp farms throughout the country. This came just weeks after the department announced plans to organically certify hemp.

Many states have begun capitalizing on hemp pilot programs allowed in the 2014 Farm Bill; others have passed hemp cultivation laws on a state level, allowing farmers in these states to grow hemp for commercial purposes. However, hemp cultivation is still restricted on a federal level by the Controlled Substances Act, placing hemp farms in the U.S. on uncertain ground.

Seven hemp farms had already secured organic certifications before the USDA shifted direction in their policy; still others were in different stages in the approval process. These certifications are from third-party auditors who followed the original directive from the USDA allowing domestic hemp to be authorized as organic. However, the USDA published new instructions in February of this year.

“Organic certification of industrial hemp production at this time is premature and could be misleading to certified organic operations, given that the legality of the various uses of this product has not yet been determined. Until USDA guidance regarding industrial hemp production under the Farm Bill is completed, NOP-accredited certifying agents may not certify the domestic production of industrial hemp,” the USDA’s new guidelines reveal.

This language leaves farms that secured the certification before the USDA shifted positions on uncertain ground, and some of those companies are continuing to use the USDA organic seal to market their hemp products products. Similarly, some companies that never went through the process for organic certification are using the seal on their labels without regard to what the seal represents to customers, further confusing the market.

Although the USDA doesn’t intend to take action against currently certified operations using the organic seal at this time, the department has told third-party auditing firms not to certify additional hemp operations in the country as organic going forward. This has created anger among some U.S. growers who point out what they feel is hypocrisy from the U.S. government. While the USDA has ceased certifying domestic hemp cultivators, it continues to provide certification to international growers, bolstering what is already a $300 million import industry and hindering the growth of our own hemp industry.

Almost two dozen U.S. states have laws in place that address the cultivation of hemp, creating domestic hemp markets, while others are pursuing hemp cultivation through pilot programs authorized in the Farm Bill for research purposes. However, they will continue to run into obstacles as long as hemp is lumped with marijuana in the Controlled Substances Act.

Time has long come for the federal government to remove hemp from the definition of marijuana in the Controlled Substances Act, helping to ensure the safety and sustainability of hemp fiber and hemp oil consumer products in the U.S. market.

Read more about the differences between hemp and marijuana here.