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Hemp may make fine food horses, but first federal rules must change


Hemp is widely considered a superfood for humans but still cannot legally be fed to animals. Hemp Feed Coalition and RE Botanicals aim to change that. The two Colorado-based organizations have teamed up to create a campaign to educate horse owners and regulators about the safety and 'exceptional’ nutritional profile of hemp byproducts as horse feed.


“The nutritional profile of hemp byproducts makes it an ideal ingredient for horses of all breeds, ages and roles, including pleasure or performance horses working in racing, showing, roping, herding and more,” state the organizations in a recent press release.


What type of nutrition can hemp feed provide?


Hemp can be grown for its cannabinoids, fiber or seeds. The process of separating any of these products from the rest of the plant material usually results in a significant amount of leftover biomass. However, this biomass does not need to become waste because it still has nutritional value.


“Hempseeds provide high-quality proteins and omega fatty acid content that rivals soybeans, and they include a unique omega-6 fatty acid called gamma linolenic acid (GLA) that is not found in flaxseed of other common oils fed to horses,” states the Hemp Feed Coalition and RE Botanicals release.


One study, which was published in 2020, found that samples of hemp biomass from Kansas contained crude protein ranging from 5.3 to 24.5%, calcium concentrations ranging from 65 to 96.6%, neutral detergent fiber ranging from 28 to 80% and acid-detergent fiber ranging from 18 to 65%.


“These meals can be fed as a top-dress to provide more protein or fat to the ration, depending on the nutrient profile, making them a good option for horses needing to gain weight of develop more topline,” equine nutritionist Dr. Clair Thunes said in a statement.


Misinformation may be the most dangerous obstacle


Hemp may make a nutritional meal for horses and may help give purpose to a product that might otherwise be wasted. However, it is not currently legal as a food for animals. Federal approval reportedly hinges on an investigation of the ingredient and sufficient data to prove safety and consistency.


“This is the first step to gaining federal approval, and the Hemp Feed Coalition is focused on their role in facilitating research and eventual approvals,” HFC Executive Director Hunter Buffington said in a statement.


He adds that misinformation is one of the biggest obstacles in the way of that. For example, many people mistakenly believe that hemp and CBD are the same.


Cannabidiol, which is most commonly referred to as CBD, is a nonintoxicating compound found in cannabis plants. Hemp plants are a type of cannabis that is low in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) but can be high in CBD.


The hemp material that could be used as animal feed can include trace amounts of cannabinoids, like CBD. Yet, the potential material for animal feed is primarily made up of other parts of the plant. Additionally, the Food and Drug Administration-Center for Veterinary Medicine (FDA-CVM) reportedly acknowledges that the levels of these cannabinoids are not a concern when it comes to the approval of these products for human use.


“The FDA-CVM recognizes that hemp oil, meal and hearts are generally recognized as safe (GRAS) for people, including children and pregnant women,” Hemp Feed Coalition and RE Botanicals state in a release. “With safety proved for humans, the confusion over its legal status for horses remains, especially for competitive performance and racehorses where a zero-tolerance environment exists for even trace amounts of cannabinoids.”


“As a CBD processor, I know that there is a huge difference between the cannabinoid and grain marketplace,” RE Botanicals CEO Janel Ralph said in a statement.


He added, “Grain provides tremendous nutritional benefits. Even though there may be trace amounts of cannabinoids in grain products, we are asking that agencies provide data that shows it is harmful or performance modifying before restrictions are imposed.”


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