Colorado’s Hemp Program Must Change to Fit USDA Rules

Most hemp farmers across the country got a big boost when the United States Department of Agriculture released its first round of industrial hemp regulations earlier this week; the new rules took effect today, October 31.

“I applaud the USDA for moving forward on hemp rulemaking and recognizing hemp production as an agricultural activity,” Senator Cory Gardner said in a statement after the regulations were announced. “Legalized hemp has the potential to be a major boon to agricultural communities across Colorado, giving farmers another viable and profitable option for their fields.”

But for farmers in states like Colorado, where hemp has been an established crop for almost five years, the new rules might not seem so progressive.

The language of last year’s Farm Bill, the measure that legalized hemp, permits states to submit plans for their own hemp regulations, follow the USDA’s regulations, or ban hemp production altogether. While the Colorado Department of Agriculture has indicated that it will submit a new hemp plan to the USDA in 2020, the state ag department had already implemented its own plan long before hemp was legalized federally late last year, and under that plan, Colorado became of the largest hemp-producing states in the country.

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Shawn Hauser, a hemp attorney with Vicente Sederberg, says that Colorado will have to alter some of its hemp regulations to align more closely with the USDA regulations, and that could mean tighter rules for this state’s farmers. Under the new, USDA-approved regulations, Colorado hemp farmers are likely to face stricter testing requirements for THC levels, she says, and have less opportunity to mitigate hot hemp, or plants that test above the federal government’s maximum allowable level of THC (0.3 percent) in industrial hemp.

“The way the federal regulations are set up, they’re going to affect every state significantly. Testing and sampling, specifically, are different from what most states have in practice,” Hauser explains. “Federal rules are pretty strict with requiring hot hemp to be destroyed by a DEA agent. There is no opportunity for remediation or correction.”

The new FDA rules do allow a “measurement of uncertainty” for farmers, which could let plants reach as high as 0.5 percent THC and still be considered acceptable by the USDA. However, industry supporters and farmers alike have been pushing for a 1 percent THC limit for some time.

Colorado farmers are currently given a couple of weeks to lower plants’ THC levels if they test too high, but hemp’s legalization and close connection to marijuana has spurred concerns of increased black market marijuana activity among law enforcement in certain states. Hauser suggests that states like Colorado and Oregon — both of which have legal and established marijuana industries — are better prepared to deal with such concerns, but she adds that more evolved markets are better prepared to roll with federal changes, too.

“Colorado and other states, because they’re mature and have gone through these trials, kind of understand there is a need for remediation,” she adds. “But because Colorado has one of the most mature industries, some of the hemp markets have anticipated these changes.”

Federal hemp regulations that mandate 100 percent of hemp harvests to undergo THC testing would likely require more CDA staff, Hauser says, as this state’s agriculture department only has enough bandwidth to test about 25 percent of hemp crops right now. Further, the USDA rules call for such testing to take place at labs certified by the Drug Enforcement Administration — and there aren’t many.

And if hemp farmers lose their crops because of high THC levels, there’s little that could help them in the form of insurance, as the new federal crop insurance program for hemp isn’t likely to cover high THC levels, according to industry representatives.

Although the USDA rules are officially implemented today, the rules are only for the interim and will be replaced in two years; states have a year to either comply or send in their respective proposals for hemp regulations. The CDA’s Colorado Hemp Advancement and Management Plan (CHAMP), a committee created by Governor Jared Polis to advance hemp policy in Colorado, will send the state’s hemp proposal to the USDA within the next few months in hopes of fully complying with the USDA by the 2020 farming season, according to Hauser.

“There are some areas for improvement, especially around testing, disposal and sampling,” Hauser says. “There is a public comment period — it’s incredibly significant for legalized hemp farmers — so it’s more important than ever to engage with the industry.”

One of Colorado’s largest hemp brands doesn’t see the USDA’s changes as a hindrance, welcoming the long-awaited federal guidance. According to Derek Thomas, vice president of business development for Veritas Farms, the USDA’s regulations will usher in a more defined and legal marketplace nationwide, which in turn will help Colorado’s hemp industry grow.

“Inside of the Colorado ecosystem, not much is going to change. Colorado has had a very robust legislative framework from the onset, and a lot of states have replicated that model,” he says. “Not a lot in Colorado will change too much. However, outside of Colorado, things like interstate commerce will see a lot less restriction from the federal government.”

With the USDA nearing completion of its hemp regulations, Thomas says the next domino that must fall is held by the Food and Drug Administration, the federal body responsible for regulating products with CBD and other cannabinoids derived from hemp. Currently, the FDA views CBD as an illegal ingredient for products meant for human and animal consumption, but admits that the agency lacks resources to enforce the policy as the largely unregulated CBD industry booms.

Veritas has deals with national drugstore chains to sell its CBD-infused lotions and topicals (products that are legal under FDA standards), but Thomas says that finding national carriers to sell its CBD tinctures and edibles is much harder in the current landscape.

“The big piece that is lingering now from the federal government is the FDA,” he says. “Most national chains are sticking to the wait-and-see model for guidance form the FDA, but we’ve seen a lot of regional retailers take interest in CBD ingestibles as we wait.”


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USDA Ranks Chicken Companies’ Salmonella Safety

Nov. 28, 2018 — Think price per pound is the only difference between chicken brands? A recent report from the USDA suggests there’s more to consider than your wallet when making your selection at the grocery store.

Last week, for the first time, the U.S. Department of Agriculture published the names of companies that produce chicken parts as well as their rankings on salmonella safety standards. The various producers earned a wide range of ranks — from Tyson, whose 32 facilities all met or exceeded standards, to Perdue Farms, which failed to meet standards in 8 of 11 facilities. The difference in the rankings, says Sarah Sorscher, deputy director of regulatory affairs at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, is “cause for concern.”

“A large number of parts producers have high rates of salmonella contamination,” says Sorscher. “Consumers should be aware that that’s a risk.”

What is salmonella?

Salmonella bacteria live in the intestines of people and animals. The bacteria leave the system through feces. Salmonella infection (or salmonellosis) usually spreads through contaminated water or food. For example, you can get it from undercooked meat that has trace amounts of feces on it.

Most people have no symptoms during a salmonella infection. When there are symptoms, they can include diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, fever, chills, headache, and blood in the stool. Healthy people tend to recover from the infection in a few days with no need for treatment. But in some cases, the diarrhea can be so dehydrating that you need medical attention.

How does USDA evaluate chicken producers?

The USDA sets maximum limits for salmonella in meat and poultry produced in the U.S. Its Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) tests raw poultry samples from manufacturing plants for salmonella weekly. The FSIS ranks each facility based on salmonella testing results across a 52-week moving window. Each week, as new samples are tested, older results shift out of the ranking. 

Joe Forsthoffer, a spokesman for Perdue Farms, says the USDA’s rating system makes it difficult to shake a bad report or for good reports to improve an overall score. “It takes a considerable amount of time for progress to be reflected in the category rankings. They don’t necessarily reflect current salmonella levels,” he said.     

The rankings published last week were based on chicken parts producers’ performance during the 52-week window from October 2017 to October 2018. Category 1 facilities did not have more than 50% of the maximum allowable salmonella during that window. Category 2 facilities didn’t violate the maximum allowed salmonella, but were above the 50% mark. Category 3 facilities exceeded the maximum level. Category rankings are published on the FSIS’s website.

“Public posting of performance encourages establishments to make changes to address salmonella. It is in any establishment’s interest to ensure that it meets or exceeds the pathogen reduction performance standards,” says an FSIS spokesperson.

The FSIS notifies facilities when they do not meet performance standards, evaluates the facilities’ safety plans and strategies to correct the problem, and decides whether further action is necessary.

“We are continuously monitoring our food safety efforts to achieve the best possible results. We have an extensive [food safety program] specifically targeting pathogen reduction, including salmonella, with multiple interventions from live production throughout processing. We closely monitor our own system for change and react accordingly to mitigate increases in salmonella prevalence,” says Perdue’s Forsthoffer.

Producers of whole chickens and turkeys and pulled or ground meats are ranked separately. Tyson did not fare as well in some of its whole chicken facilities, two of which were ranked category 3.

“Both USDA and Tyson Foods test the chicken frequently to make sure our food safety efforts are working and meeting government standards,” says Worth Sparkman, a spokesman for Tyson. “A team of scientists and operations experts continually looks for new ways to prevent the potential spread of bacteria. They have made significant progress toward eliminating salmonella from our fresh chicken and continue to do more.”

How can you protect yourself?

“Salmonella is prevalent and can be present in raw meat and poultry, and in live poultry. No raw meat or poultry is sterile,” the FSIS spokesperson says. That’s why it can be hard for consumers to check out every brand before they buy chicken. But “grocery stores and other major purchasers stay up to date and won’t buy from failing producers,” says Sorscher, of the Center for Science in the Public Interest

Consumers can take these steps to protect themselves:

  • Double-bag raw meat at the grocery store, and throw away the bag afterward.
  • Do not place food on wet spots on the grocery store checkout conveyor belt.
  • Store raw meat, poultry, and seafood away from other foods in your refrigerator.
  • Do not allow water to splatter on kitchen counters when cleaning raw meat.
  • Use separate cutting boards for meat and produce or, at the least, cut produce first. 
  • Wash your hands after handling raw poultry, meat, and pet food to avoid contaminating other foods, spice containers, or kitchen surfaces.
  • Cook meat and poultry thoroughly. Cooking kills salmonella.
  • Never place cooked food on an unwashed plate that previously held raw meat.

Sources

Center for Science in the Public Interest: “USDA Names Slaughterhouses that are Failing Salmonella Performance Standards for Chicken Parts.”

USDA.gov: “FSIS Posts Individual Category Status and Aggregate Results for Poultry Carcasses, Chicken Parts, and Comminuted Poultry Tested for Salmonella.”

Mayo Clinic: “Salmonella infection.”

Sarah Sorscher, deputy director of regulatory affairs, Center for Science in the Public Interest.

© 2018 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.


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Less Salt, More Veggies in School Lunches: USDA

WEDNESDAY Jan. 25, 2012 — First Lady Michelle Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack unveiled on Wednesday new standards for school meals — the first revisions in more than 15 years. The goal: To provide healthier meals and better nutrition for the nearly 32 million children who take part in school meal programs.

The new standards include offering fruits and vegetables every day, increasing whole grain-rich foods, serving only fat-free or low-fat milk, limiting calories based on children’s ages, and reducing the amounts of saturated fat, trans fats and sodium, according to a news release from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Mrs. Obama and Vilsack, who were joined by celebrity chef Rachael Ray, made the announcement at an elementary school in Alexandria, Va.

“As parents, we try to prepare decent meals, limit how much junk food our kids eat, and ensure they have a reasonably balanced diet,” Mrs. Obama said in a news release. “And when we’re putting in all that effort, the last thing we want is for our hard work to be undone each day in the school cafeteria. When we send our kids to school, we expect that they won’t be eating the kind of fatty, salty, sugary foods that we try to keep them from eating at home.”

In the same statement, Vilsack said, “Improving the quality of the school meals is a critical step in building a healthy future for our kids.”

Dr. David Katz, director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University School of Medicine, said that “these changes to school food standards are welcome, commendable and unquestionably helpful in efforts to combat childhood obesity and all of the metabolic mayhem that follows in its wake.”

Still, Katz doesn’t think the changes go far enough.

And they aren’t as complete as the Obama administration had wanted, according to the Associated Press.

Last year, Congress blocked some of the agriculture department’s planned revisions, including cutting down how often french fries and pizza could be served, the news agency said.

In November, Congress passed a bill requiring the agriculture department to continue to count tomato paste on pizzas as a vegetable, the AP reported.

“Making healthier pizza is a great idea. However, it is unfortunate and rather ridiculous that Congress still thinks tomato paste is a vegetable,” said dietitian Samantha Heller, clinical nutrition coordinator at the Center for Cancer Care at Griffin Hospital in Derby, Conn.

Congress also refused to allow the USDA to limit servings of potatoes. Those congressional directions must be incorporated into the final rule, the AP reported.

The news service said that potato growers, companies that make frozen pizzas for schools and others in the food industry lobbied for the changes made by Congress, and that conservatives said the government shouldn’t be telling children what to eat.

Some school districts objected to some of the requirements, saying they went too far and would cost too much, the AP said.

Katz said, “It is unacceptable that food industry elements lobbied Congress successfully for changes in nutrition standards that placed profits ahead of children’s health.

“The argument that we cannot afford to do even better is spurious, because it leaves us needing to afford the treatment of type 2 diabetes in children. It leaves us needing to pay for bariatric surgery in adolescents,” he added.

Still, the changes signal some progress, Katz said. “We should not expect it to change childhood obesity rates. School lunch was never the cause of epidemic obesity, and improving it will not be the cure. But school lunch has long been part of the problem and these improved standards will help make it one part of a comprehensive solution, now long overdue,” he said.

Heller rejected the argument that children will not eat healthier foods.

“When given the time, exposure and encouragement as well as altering environmental influences, kids will eat healthy foods when available,” she said. “Just putting fresh fruit by the cafeteria check-out in schools increases consumption by schoolchildren considerably. Making fresh, healthy foods delicious and explaining to kids how and why good nutrition is critical for them to do well in their favorite activities such as sports, art or science, will also boost consumption,” Heller said.

“Food companies, lobbyists, and members of Congress would do well to step up to the plate and start setting good examples of healthy eating and lifestyles,” Heller added.

The new rule is based on recommendations from a panel of experts from the Institute of Medicine and also updated changes from the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

More information

For more information on healthy eating, visit the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Posted: January 2012

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USDA Revises Cooking Temperatures for Pork

Whole Cuts of Pork Should be Cooked to an Internal Temperature of 145 degrees, with a 3-Minute Rest Time

May 25, 2011 — Just in time for the start of grilling season, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has updated guidelines for safely preparing pork. The USDA recommends that pork be cooked to an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit.

The federal agency says it is lowering the recommended safe cooking temperature for whole cuts of pork from 160 degrees to 145 degrees and adding a 3-minute rest time.

That temperature should be measured with a food thermometer placed in the thickest part of the meat, then allowing the meat to sit for three minutes before carving or eating.

The safe temperature for beef, veal, and lamb remains at 145 degrees, but the USDA says it is adding a 3-minute rest time to its preparation recommendations.

New Guideline Does Not Apply to Ground Meats

The USDA says the change does not apply to ground meats, including beef, veal, lamb, and pork, which should be cooked to 160 degrees. The safe cooking temperature for all poultry products, including chicken and turkey, remains 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

“With a single temperature for all whole cuts of meat and uniform 3-minute stand time, we believe it will be much easier for consumers to remember and result in safer food preparation,” USDA Under Secretary Elisabeth Hagen says in a news release. “Now there will only be three numbers to remember — 145 for whole meats, 160 for ground meats, and 165 for all poultry.”

Making Sure of Microbiological Safety

It says cooking raw pork, steaks, roasts, and chops to 145 degrees with the addition of a 3-minute rest time will result in a product that is microbiologically safe and at its best quality.

Rest time is the amount of time the product remains at the final temperature after it has been taken off a grill, oven, or other heat source, the USDA says. During that 3-minute period, the temperature of meat remains constant or continues to rise, destroying pathogens.

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