Today, hemp can be found in food products, dietary supplements, textiles, personal care products, and more. But while hemp may no longer be seen as an outlier ingredient to many in the natural products industry, its legal status—particularly regarding industrial hemp farming—has been a bit murky. Now, with the proposed Hemp Farming Act of 2018 up for consideration in the U.S. Senate, hemp could be poised for even more widespread use. If passed, the bill would regulate industrial hemp as an agricultural crop and remove it from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. In honor of Hemp History Week, Nutritional Outlook spoke with John Roulac, founder and chief visionary officer at plant-based organic foods company Nutiva, about the current regulatory landscape for U.S. industrial hemp farming, and what’s next for the hemp category.
John Roulac has been an advocate for growing the organic foods industry for more than two decades. During that time, he has helped to educate industry groups and consumers about the hemp plant through his work with multiple nonprofit organizations and through his books on industrial hemp and coconut foods. In 2002, following the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency’s declaration that food products containing hemp were illegal, Roulac, along with the Hemp Association of America and other hemp businesses, successfully sued the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, so that food products containing hemp could continue to be sold in the U.S.
Nutritional Outlook: In general, can you comment on why this is such an exciting time for hemp in the U.S.?
John Roulac: We’re at a historic turning point for the hemp industry in the U.S. The Hemp Farming Act of 2018 has been introduced to the Senate, which would remove hemp from the federal list of controlled substances and treat it like a regular agricultural commodity. The U.S. hemp foods retail market has grown 4.9% reaching a staggering $43.6 million in the past year or so, according to SPINS data. In addition, CBD products are also becoming extremely popular among consumers. Things are changing very quickly for hemp making it a really exciting time for the industry.
Do you think that the newly proposed Hemp Farming Act of 2018 is likely to pass? If it passes, what, in your mind, will the hemp industry look like in the next 10 years? What kinds of changes will it bring, and how will it change the supply of hemp in the U.S.?
I think there’s a pretty good chance that the Hemp Farming Act of 2018 will pass. It already has good traction in the Senate with 24 co-signers, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. If the bill passes, I expect the hemp industry to expand immensely. We’ve already seen the industry grow over the past year or so, but if the bill passes, there will be even greater opportunity for suppliers and brands alike.
Can you comment on what kinds of opportunities lie ahead for U.S.-grown hemp? How does the current U.S. supply stand, and how is it likely to grow?
The U.S.-grown supply of hemp is very small, and even smaller for USDA Certified Organic hemp, because there are very few states where it can be grown. Colorado is one of those states, which is where we source the USDA Certified Organic hemp for our new USA-Grown Organic Hempseed. I think the opportunity for growth is inevitable, especially amongst farmers. Senator Mitch McConnell introduced the Hemp Farming Act of 2018 to replace tobacco in Kentucky, so there’s already drive for hemp as a crop. If the bill passes and farming of U.S.-grown hemp expands, I expect that many U.S. brands that source their hemp outside of the U.S. will move to sourcing from home instead.
How will suppliers of U.S.-grown hemp have to complete as the market becomes more crowded? And how will designations like Nutiva’s certified organic hemp help brands stand apart?
I don’t imagine that the U.S.-grown hemp market would become crowded very quickly, but I do think that one of the ways suppliers can compete is to create new hemp varieties with greater yields, which in turn will help compete in the long term with plants like flax and soy. We recently launched USA-Grown Organic Hempseed, which helps set us apart from other hempseed brands because it’s the first USDA Certified Hempseed from a national organic brand that’s grown entirely in the U.S. I imagine that other brands will jump on the bandwagon to use U.S.-grown hemp rather quickly.
Can you discuss the challenges of growing and obtaining U.S.-grown, certified-organic hemp?
It’s challenging to source U.S.-grown hemp in general, let alone USDA Certified Organic hemp, because there just aren’t many farmers growing it right now because of the federal law limits.
Any other comments on where the biggest opportunities (and challenges) for U.S. hemp lie moving forward?
I think the biggest opportunity for hemp lies within its versatility. It has an impressive amount of various sustainable applications for design, technology and food. It also has agricultural purposes given it works well as a rotation crop to help manage organic soil fertility and reduce soil borne diseases. It’s also nutritious and delicious and can be used in tons of homemade recipes. That said, I think the biggest opportunity lies within the versatility of the plant – with uses beyond what we have yet to think of. One of the biggest challenges for hemp stems from the misunderstanding and lack of education about what hemp is and what it can be used for. My hope is that the hemp industry and its supporters can educate people about the plant in tandem with building a thriving U.S.-grown hemp industry.