Big News for the Organic Certification of Hemp

The public’s desire for organic products continues to grow. This is equally true for cannabis and hemp-derived products, especially where they are being used for medicinal purposes. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has issued regulations setting out standards setting out specific requirements that must be met for an agricultural product to be labeled “organic”. In order to be able to include the USDA’s organic certified seal on a product’s packaging, a USDA-accredited certifying agency must verify that the product meets USDA’s regulations. This USDA certification provides many benefits, including, for example, premium prices for products. So why haven’t we seen many certifications for hemp products?

Back in 2016, the USDA, in conjunction with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, issued a Statement of Principles on Industrial Hemp concerning the applicability of Federal law to industrial hemp programs after the 2014 Farm Bill, but the ability to gain organic certification for hemp products was unclear. The USDA also issued Instruction: Organic Certification of Industrial Hemp Production (updated in September 2018), which stated that industrial hemp produced in accordance with the 2014 Farm Bill could be certified if it met all of the requirements of USDA’s organic regulations. The problem was that under the 2014 Farm Bill only certain parts of the hemp plant (e.g., the stalk and non-viable seeds) were permitted to seek organic certification. And, actually, some hemp seed products have received USDA organic certification.

But with the enactment of the 2018 Farm Bill, other parts of the hemp plant are now eligible for USDA organic certification. And it appears that USDA is ready and willing to provide these certifications, as evidenced by the issuance of the first organic certification for hemp flower to Palmetto Harmony earlier this month. The requirements for USDA organic certification are rigorous and the application is time consuming, but the marketing benefits could outweigh these costs. But we expect to see an upswing in these applications and certifications over the coming months and years.