We’ve all heard of GMO foods, but GMO hemp? Well, get used to it. A genetically modified hemp plant may be approved for growth in the U.S. Read on to find out more about the modification process.
How Has the Genetically Modified Hemp Plant Been Engineered?
The genetically modified hemp plant has been engineered to produce less THC and CBC (cannabichromene). THC is the cannabinoid that gives cannabis its psychoactive effects. CBC is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid known to reduce inflammation and treat conditions like irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, and neuropathy.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture stated that the genetically modified hemp plant “may be safely grown and bred in the United States”.
After the plant was modified, it was submitted to the biotechnology firm, Growing Together Research. The firm confirmed that the lab achieved “the first known stable transformation and regeneration of multiple THC-free hemp cultivars”. The organization also announced it would continue modification efforts to increase THC production in plants.
Pests are Also a Genetically Modified Hemp Plant Concern
Environmentalists are concerned with how many pests the genetically modified plant will attract. They do not want it to bring unwanted pests into the United States. They are also aware that pests may affect other crops.
The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHS) did some research and came back with the following statement.
“We reviewed the modified hemp plant to determine whether it posed an increased plant pest risk and compared it to cultivated hemp. APHIS found this modified hemp plant is unlikely to pose an increased plant pest risk compared to other cultivated hemp.”
The APHIS review involved examining “the plant pests and diseases that are known to be associated with a commodity, identifies that those pests that are likely to remain on the commodity upon importation to the United States, and evaluates the mitigations that may be required to avoid, reduce, or eliminate the risk of pest introduction of the United States.”
Growing Together’s Genetically Modified Hemp Plant Review Request
Growing Together sent a review request to the USDA that said their modifications were meant to make the plants THC and CBC-free and to boost their resistance to bialaphos, an herbicide antibiotic often used in plant modification. They said that herbicide resistance should not change the metabolism, physiology, or development of the genetically modified hemp plant.
The USDA responded that the genetically modified hemp plant is “not subject to regulations under 7 CFR part 340” which regulates GMO movements. However, the organization stated that it may be subject to other regulations like permitting and quarantine requirements.
USDA’s Efforts to Support the Hemp Community
The USDA has been trying to develop a better relationship with hemp agricultural workers since the crop was legalized through the 2018 Farm Bill. Part of the effort involved sending out updated guidelines on how to identify, describe, and evaluate different types of hemp plants.
The organization also sent out a video that showed hemp farmers how to use a backpack vacuum that can collect up to 10 grams of cannabis pollen in under a minute.
The agency has also been taking steps to promote the hemp market. They recently partnered with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture to host a workshop on growing cannabis in a bio-based economy.
They also shared the story of a successful Indiana hemp farm. They explained how their technical and financial assistance helped the business increase its production of quality CBD oil.
The USDA also renamed a trade advisory committee to recognize hemp as one of its specialty crops and increased the hemp industry representatives on its federal trade advisory board by 50%. These steps show that the agency identifies the crop as a valuable commodity.
Issues with the Hemp Industry
Despite the USDA’s efforts, the hemp industry has been facing financial issues. The crop value has dropped considerably. Stakeholders say a lack of FDA regulations on the marketing of hemp products is to blame. The FDA has recognized the complaint but states that Congress is responsible for enacting the regulations.
They are addressing the issues by introducing bills that reduce regulations so farmers can grow industrial hemp more freely.
Hemp is a Beneficial Crop
The genetically modified hemp plant and other positive steps in the industry are in the best interest of the FDA and other agricultural organizations that support the market. The plant is beneficial to the environment and the population. Here are some benefits it offers.
- Resilience: Hemp is very resilient. It can grow in poor soil and air quality and with limited water. It is a low-maintenance plant that does not consume a lot of resources.
- Good for the Environment: Hemp benefits the environment. It produces oxygen that cleans the air. It also absorbs toxins from the ground to improve soil quality.
- Benefits Bees: Hemp has nectar-producing flowers that help bees thrive in the absence of other flower sources. Bees are essential to the agricultural system. Hemp is especially useful in producing queen bees which help hives remain fertile.
- Lower Carbon Emissions: Hemp absorbs CO2 from the air. It creates a healthier environment for trees and plants to grow. It reduces deforestation issues.
- Helps Wild Animals: The plant provides food and refuge for wild animals. It preserves habitats for over 40 species.
- It’s An Environmental Choice for Consumer Goods: Hemp can be used to produce biodegradable plastic and eco-friendly biofuels. It is stronger than wood fiber and cotton. It can also produce paper goods minimizing the reliance on trees.
- Good for You: Hemp can be included in supplements and food products. It is beneficial to heart health, brain health, and skin conditions. It also has anti-inflammatory properties.
The hemp industry has recently taken a blow. The genetically modified hemp plant and the efforts of U.S. agencies should turn the market around. Let’s hope it does the trick.