CHAMPAIGN, ILL. — Several agricultural and animal health organizations signed a joint open letter on Feb. 9, urging agricultural leaders and state policymakers to support research and education for using  hemp-based ingredients in animal feed products, including pet food.

The letter, led by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), was signed by AAFCO, the American Feed Industry Association and Pet Food Institute alongside 14 other industry groups.

It touched on five main topics: a need for scientific research in commercial feed; establishing safety procedures and ingredient review pathways; addressing concerns about animal safety, consumer safety and legal implications; defining achievable, defined regulatory pathways for hemp; and keeping the dialogue open.

“We understand the importance of supporting the hemp industry, and yet we also believe it is simply too soon to know whether hemp is safe for farm and ranch animals, as well as for our pets,” the letter stated. “Our goal is for more research to ensure the safety and well-being of the public, our animals and our agricultural industry.”

As of today, no hemp-based ingredients — including broad- and full-spectrum cannabidiol (CBD), hulled hemp seed, hemp seed protein powder and hemp seed oil — have been approved for use in animal feed or pet food by the US Food and Drug Administration. While interest in these ingredients has accelerated since the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, federal and state regulatory agencies have been slow to approve the use of hemp-based ingredients in animal feed products.

AAFCO and 16 other industry organizations say more research is needed on the efficacy and safety of hemp ingredients, and regulation should be done through established ingredient review pathways used for other new animal feed and pet food ingredients.

The letter calls on universities and private labs to conduct research that could inform an ingredient definition for hemp, so it can be regulated and accepted as a safe, effective animal feed ingredient.

“Currently, there are no hemp ingredients approved for use in animal feed or animal drug products,” AAFCO stated on its web page, Frequently Asked Questions About Hemp Use. “In some states, hemp may be allowed in some feed and other product types.”

While regulatory progress has been slow going for animal food, pet supplement brands have capitalized on hazy guidelines to address consumer demand for nutritional products containing hemp-based ingredients. These products have been cropping up in pet specialty stores and online more frequently since 2018, and sales of hemp-CBD pet products are growing exponentially.

Regardless, several questions remain. What are the long-term effects of hemp-based ingredients in an animal diet? Are they safe? And how can regulatory officials ensure safety and efficacy of hemp ingredients across the board?

“Although research is underway, it is limited and not conclusive,” the letter stated. “Some parts of the hemp plant have the potential to serve as sources of nutrition in many animal diets. However, it is not yet clear whether animals fed hemp-based diets will perform similarly to animals fed traditional diets that farmers and ranchers depend on today.”

This open letter is a continuation of AAFCO’s hemp ingredient agenda. In September 2021, AAFCO issued a position paper and call to action urging hemp and feed industry players to conduct further research on the use of hemp ingredients in pet food and feed.

Read the full letter on AAFCO’s website.

For more regulatory news affecting the pet food market, visit our Regulatory page.