Cows That Are Fed Hemp Cake Retain Safe Levels Of THC And CBD In Their Meat, USDA Study Finds

Cows that are fed hempseed cake retain very low concentrations of THC and CBD in their bodies, indicating that meat products from hemp-fed cattle are safe for human consumption, a new study from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) found.

Researchers at USDA’s Agriculture Research Service (ARS) and North Dakota State University (NDSU) said that the boom in hemp oil production has left farmers with a lot of byproduct that can be compressed into “cakes,” and they wanted to assess the safety of feeding it to livestock.

The study, published in the journal Food Additives and Contaminants, looked at cannabinoid concentration in the muscle, liver, kidney and fat tissues of cattle fed hempseed cake, checking the THC and CBD levels at different stages of metabolism.

“Scientists found that the concentrations of [cannabinoids] in meat products contributed only a small fraction of the total amount global regulatory organizations consider safe for consumers,” the department said in a press release on Wednesday.

Scientists examine potential human cannabinol exposure from consuming meat if cattle is fed hempseed cake. https://t.co/xqYS0VqE5U pic.twitter.com/FV4Ack4Zf6

— Agricultural Research Service (@USDA_ARS) April 12, 2023

What’s more, the study found that hempseed cake is “highly nutritious” and could serve as a “viable alternative feed source for cattle.”

“According to our exposure assessment, it would be very difficult for a human to consume enough fat from cattle fed with hempseed cake to exceed regulatory guidelines for dietary THC exposure,” David Smith of USDA’s Animal Metabolism-Agricultural Chemicals Research Unit said.

“From a food safety view point, hempseed cake having low cannabinoid content can be a suitable source of crude protein and fiber in cattle feed while offering industrial hemp producers a potential market for this byproduct of hempseed oil extraction,” he said.

As an added bonus, another federally funded study published last year found that feeding cows hemp reduces their stress. Researchers have also looked into how CBD affects stress and pain in horses.

For the time being, however, hemp is not authorized by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a food source for animals.

FDA sent warning letters to a series of businesses marketing CBD products for animals last year, cautioning that there’s a “lack of data on what levels of potential residues are safe for a person consuming the foods that come from CBD-treated animals.”

The agency has also frustrated industry stakeholders after declining to enact rules more broadly allowing CBD products in the human food supply or as dietary supplements. Officials said the task required congressional action, and bipartisan lawmakers have filed bills to that end.

Marijuana Moment reached out to FDA for comment on USDA’s new study, but a representative was not immediately available.


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USDA started sending out thousands of surveys to hemp farmers across the country earlier this year as part of its annual effort to learn about how the market has evolved since the crop was federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill.

The department launched its first annual survey in 2021 and released a report detailing the results the following year. The questionnaire has since been revised to “improve data quality and reduce respondent burden,” USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) said.

In January USDA launched a new weekly hemp market report to provide “unbiased, timely, and accurate data” on the industry.

USDA announced in December that it is delaying enforcement of a rule requiring hemp to be tested at laboratories certified by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) due to “inadequate” capacity of such facilities.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack gave final approval to a broad federal rule laying out regulations for the hemp industry in 2021, despite the outstanding concerns from advocates about certain provisions.

The agency has separately taken also steps to improve insurance policies for hemp businesses, making them more flexible in response to stakeholder feedback.

USDA also said in 2021 that it was teaming up with a chemical manufacturing company on a two-year project that could significantly expand the hemp-based cosmetics market.

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay/Ulrike Leone.

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