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USDA Renames Trade Committee To Recognize Hemp As A Key Specialty Crop



The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is renaming a trade advisory committee to prominently feature hemp among a select group of specialty crops—reflecting the agency’s understanding of cannabis as a uniquely valuable commodity.

Hemp and its derivatives like CBD were legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill, and USDA has spent that past few years working closely with the industry to support businesses and normalize the crop. Now it is symbolically recognizing hemp as part of one of its six Agricultural Technical Advisory Committees (ATACs).

While USDA has already added one hemp industry representatives to the body, it’s being formally renamed to reflect the sector. Going forward, it will be the ATAC for Trade in Tobacco, Cotton, Peanuts and Hemp, the department said in a notice set to be published in the Federal Register on Thursday.

Patrick Atagi, president and CEO of the National Industrial Hemp Council (NIHC), was appointed to the advisory committee in 2021. Kevin Latner, a former marketing executive at NIHC, was made part of a separate ATAC focused on processed foods in 2020.

The committee renaming is a “huge recognition” by federal officials “to recognize hemp as an agricultural and trade commodity and product, emphasizing the move of making hemp a mainstream commodity,” Atagi told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview on Wednesday.

“It’s just a historic move,” he said. “Hemp is now in the nomenclature at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office.”

The purpose of the committees, which are jointly appointed by USDA and the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), is to “provide detailed policy and technical advice, information, and recommendations regarding trade barriers, negotiation of trade agreements, and implementation of existing trade agreements affecting food and agricultural products, including the performance of other advisory functions relevant to U.S. agricultural trade policy matters,” the new notice says.

“Throughout the year, members are requested to review sensitive trade policy information and provide comments regarding trade negotiations. In addition to their other advisory responsibilities, at the conclusion of negotiations of any trade agreement, all committees are required to provide a report on each agreement to the President, Congress, USTR, and USDA,” it says.

USDA is currently soliciting nominations for members in each of the six ATACs, as well as its Agricultural Policy Advisory Committee (APAC). Nominations will be accepted until the end of the four-year charter terms of the committees in June 2027.

These developments come as congressional lawmakers prepare to take up a 2023 Farm Bill, which hemp industry stakeholders hope will be used as an opportunity to build on federal policies for the crop and ease restrictions on farmers and manufacturers.

The hemp sector took a major economic hit last year, according to an analysis from USDA that showed the crop’s value drop precipitously across all metrics. Stakeholders have largely attributed the downturn to a lack of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations on marketing valuable hemp derivative products like CBD oil. The agency has insisted that it need Congress to step in to enact such rules.

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Rep. James Comer (R-KY), chair of the House Oversight and Accountability Committee, sent a letter to FDA Commissioner Robert Califf in March, announcing an investigation into the agency’s decision and criticizing the “insufficient rationale for inaction” on CBD regulations.

Advocates are pushing Congress to enact legislation to address the issue, including a bipartisan bill from Reps. Morgan Griffith (R-VA) and Angie Craig (D-MN) that would provide a regulatory pathway for hemp derivatives like CBD.

Griffith and other bipartisan lawmakers sent a separate, related letter to the FDA commissioner last year. They expressed frustration over the “completely insufficient response” the agency provided in response to their bill calling for hemp-derived CBD to be permitted and regulated as a food additive.

Meanwhile, a group of House lawmakers introduced a bill in March that seeks to end what they say is a “discriminatory” federal policy that bars people with prior felony drug convictions from owning or leading legal hemp businesses.

Meanwhile, bipartisan lawmakers in the House and Senate have introduced companion bills this session that aim to reduce regulatory burdens for farmers that grow industrial hemp for non-extraction purposes.

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