NOFA Publishes Organic Certification for Hemp Seed and Fiber

Hemp plants grown by Barton-based Northeast Kingdom Hemp. File photo courtesy of NEK Hemp.
TG Branfalt 18 Apr 2018

The Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) has published their certification requirements for organic hemp, requiring that NOFA certified products meet both the specifications for organic certification and the “industrial purposes” definition of hemp. However, NOFA cannot certify cannabidiol (CBD) products as “organic,” as the Drug Enforcement Agency includes cannabidiol (CBD) in the definition of “marijuana.”

According to NOFA’s organic certification requirements – which mirror federal guidelines – “only hemp fiber and seed can meet the definition of ‘industrial purposes’ and therefore certification.”

“Hemp oil (stalk, leaf, or seed) or hemp meal intended for human or livestock consumption cannot be certified organic, as these are not considered ‘industrial uses,’” the NOFA document states, noting that products that do not meet the definition of industrial purposes can be certified organic under other international standards, such as the Canadian Organic Regime, and can be allowed as organic ingredients under the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program (NOP), “as long as they meet the terms of the relevant equivalency agreement.” Under that agreement, the NOP recognizes the European Union Organic Program and allows products to be certified as meeting USDA NOP standards and marketed as “ organic” in the United States.

For Vermont hemp to receive organic certification from the NOFA program, it must be registered with the state program and not exceed 0.3 percent THC as defined by the legislature-approved law – which coincides with federal rules under the 2014 Farm Bill. Vermont farmers must provide seed certificates, along with purchase receipts, the name and description of hemp variety, and “documentation that verifies consistent and stable THC levels from seeking through harvest,” according to the NOFA certification requirements. This documentation could include results from the Vermont Agency of Agriculture’s voluntary sampling and analysis program.

According to NOFA Certification Director Nicole Dehne, so far only one hemp farm – the University of Vermont linked Borderview Farm in St. Albans – has received organic certification by the organization. As of April  2, Vermont is home to 145 registered hemp farms, according to Agency of Agriculture figures.

Dehne explained that, while a processor could buy NOFA-approved organic hemp and develop a product for human consumption (including CBD), the final product would not be eligible for NOFA organic certification because it falls outside the definition of industrial use. Additionally,, the product’s ingredient list could specify that the product is grown with certified organic hemp.

Michelle Muth Person, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Marketing Service, confirmed that CBD products fall outside of the definition of hemp under the 2014 Farm Bill, which is considered “marijuana” for federal purposes.

“Marijuana may not be certified organic under the USDA organic regulations. Marijuana is considered a controlled substance at the Federal level, and organic certification is reserved for agricultural products,” she said in an email. “For hemp produced in the (U.S.), only industrial hemp, produced in accordance with the 2014 Farm Bill, as articulated in the Statement of Principles on Industrial Hemp issued on August 12, 2016 by the USDA, may be certified as organic, if produced in accordance with USDA organic regulations.”

The statement of principles declares that the Farm Bill’s “Section 7606 did not remove industrial hemp from the controlled substances list. Therefore, Federal law continues to restrict hemp-related activities, to the extent that those activities have not been legalized under section 7606.”

Dehne said that her organization “has been pushing back” on the agriculture department’s broad language used in statement of principles on industrial hemp; specifically, their definition of “industrial purposes,” which they say should only apply to only fiber and seed.

“We would be happy to have a broader definition of “industrial purposes.”


“One could interpret that as ‘industrial hemp is only fiber and seed,’ essentially,” she explained. “We would be happy to have a broader definition of “industrial purposes.” Moreover, National Organic Program (NOP) regulators don’t have any official directive forbidding CBD product certification, so some state-level organic certifiers could read the definition differently.

If NOFA were to decide to apply this definition broadly and certify a CBD produc,t they “would probably receive a non-compliance” from the NOP, Dehne said, adding that whomever received that certification would have to repackage the product and retract said certification. “We have to be cautious,” she said.

Dr. Heather Darby, who heads the UVM hemp research program, said in an email that having an organic-certified crop provides “credibility” to the team’s research and “verifies that we are indeed using organic practices that meet the national standard.” The UVM project seeks to determine which varieties and growing conditions are best for the region, and assess weed, pest, and disease pressure.

According to Dehne, NOFA has received five applications from hemp farmers interested in receiving organic certification – specifically for seed – for this coming growing season.

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