The USDA has declared that it is safe to grow and breed hemp in the US.
In a recent announcement, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) said that hemp that is genetically engineered to create lower levels of the cannabinoids tetrahydrocannabindol (THC) and cannabichromene (CBC) “may be safely grown and bred in the United States,” (1).
Growing Together Research, a biotechnology company located in Fort Wayne, Indiana, submitted the genetically modified hemp plant to be reviewed. Earlier in 2023, Growing Together Research mentioned that they had achieved “the first known stable transformation and regeneration of multiple THC-free hemp cultivars” (1). Then in June 2023, the company made another announcement that they would be working on trying to increase THC production in cannabis plants.
“We reviewed the modified hemp plant to determine whether it posed an increased plant pest risk as compared to cultivated hemp,” USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) said in a recent notice (1). “APHIS found this modified hemp is unlikely to pose an increased plant pest risk compared to other cultivated hemp.”
The biotechnology firm, Growing Together Research, has stated that in the review, they are trying to create engineered hemp plants that are free of THC and CBC but also increase the resistance to bialaphos, an herbicide. They also claim that genes found in the new hemp plants come from several donor organisms, which include plants, a virus, bacteria, and at least one artificial sequence (1). In their request to the USDA, the company trusts that the resistance to the bialaphos herbicide “is not expected to result in any other material changes to metabolism, physiology or development of the plant,” (1).
The main focus of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) review was to witness if the new genetically engineered hemp plant would pose a “plant pest risk” (1). According to APHIS, the review process “examines the plant pests and diseases that are known to be associated with a commodity, identifies those pests that are likely to remain on the commodity upon importation into the United States, and evaluates the mitigations that may be required to avoid, reduce, or eliminate the risk of pest introduction into the United States,” (1).
The USDA ruled in their response to Growing Together Research that the new hemp variant was “not subject to the regulations under 7 CFR part 340,”, this oversees genetically modified organisms (1). They may not however be able to avoid other regulations such as, quarantine or permitting requirements.