Hemp industry leaders are fighting to overturn strict government policy that has banned the sale of hemp products for pets and left companies battling for survival.
The tightening of regulations by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) has confounded the industry which has called for an urgent rethink.
Several firms, which have been operating in good faith for a number of years, have received warning letters from the APVMA threatening enforcement action unless stock is removed from sale.
The controversy erupted following an updated directive by the APVMA which is understood to have been triggered by complaints to the regulator amid unsubstantiated health claims allegedly appearing on labels.
Under regulations outlined on its website, the APVMA stressed that all hemp is considered a ‘veterinary chemical product’ for which registration is required. No such products have been registered, it said.
Registration will cost many thousands of dollars and take up to two years, Cannabiz has been told.
“If a product has not been registered by the APVMA or approved for use under permit, it may not be safe to use in animals… and could be dangerous,” the regulator states.
“We are aware of some cannabis products that are marketed in Australia as animal health products, feed additives or pet food. However, these products have not been registered by the APVMA and safe levels/concentration limits for cannabis have not been determined for animals.”
The regulator even singled out omega 3 as a cause of concern.
In non-compliance letters sent to suppliers, the APVMA warned that “significant monetary penalties can apply to proven contraventions of these laws”.
The crackdown is yet another blow for the hemp industry which has spent years trying to disassociate itself from the stigma surrounding cannabis.
Sector leaders believe it is another example of government bodies failing to communicate with each other, lumping everything into the same cannabis basket and not grasping the inherent differences between hemp and THC.
The issue has been taken up by the Australian Hemp Council (AHC) which is writing to agriculture minister Murray Watt in the hope of finding a solution to help protect the future of companies and jobs.
In the letter, AHC Fodder Group chairwoman Bronwyn Blake argued that hemp seed and its derivatives do not meet the definition of a ‘veterinary chemical product’ as set out by the APVMA and should be reclassified as an ‘animal feed product’ which does not require registration if it meets certain conditions.
“In their position on cannabis, the APVMA does not recognise the distinction between industrial hemp and medicinal cannabis,” Blake said. “Industrial hemp is cannabis with less than 1% THC, which has many useful non-THC applications. The two industries are tightly governed by different regulatory bodies… [but] this differentiation has seemingly not been recognised by the AVPMA.
She added: “Many people can and do purchase hemp seed products from their local store and give it to their pets, so it seems unfair that Australian businesses selling hemp products for pets are being restricted and threatened with non-compliance and associated penalties.”
The crackdown risks insolvency for small businesses, increased consumer distrust of hemp seed oil and the general deceleration of the hemp industry, the letter adds.
Blake, the co-founder of hemp food business Vasse Valley, told Cannabiz the saga is causing immense distress for company owners and staff who have been operating in good faith for a number of years.
She said: “This has all come as a shock to us, and to every member of the hemp industry. Hemp truly is a massively over-regulated industry, which seems to be getting more and more bogged down in regulations.
“You’d think something that was deemed safe for infants was also safe for dogs. The funny thing is, anyone could go to their local shops, purchase some hemp seed oil, and give it to their dog, so we really don’t understand how the APVMA will police this new ruling.”
A spokesperson for the APVMA said in a statement to Cannabiz that while some products can be “excluded from the scope of regulation” if they are ‘generally regarded as safe’ (GRAS), hemp seed oil is not currently on that list and “is not considered safe” for some animals.
“Humans and animals can metabolise chemicals differently, which means some chemicals regarded as safe for humans can be toxic to animals,” the regulator said. “For hemp seed oil to be included as an ingredient that is considered safe, registrants must demonstrate its safety and apply to the APVMA for it to be included in the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Code Ingredient Determination.”
The APVMA declined to say if it was aware of any examples where pets had suffered an adverse reaction to hemp.