The Agricultural Act of 2018, better known as the 2018 Farm Bill, authorizes the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to approve plans submitted by states, territories and Native American tribes for the commercial production of hemp. Under the 2018 Farm Bill, “hemp” is the cannabis plant and any part of that plant, including the seeds and all derivatives, extracts, and cannabinoids, with a delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) concentration of not more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis. The USDA is currently drafting regulations on hemp production, which could address topics such as sampling processes, testing requirements, disposal of violative plants and products derived from those plants, inspections, licensing, compliance and other procedures.

To solicit stakeholder input on these procedures and their implementation, the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service hosted the 2018 Farm Bill Webinar on the Domestic Hemp Production Program on March 13, 2019. The webinar drew more than 2,100 participants and featured over 40 speakers, including state agricultural and government officials; representatives of Native American tribes; and representatives from banks, testing laboratories and standards organizations, trade associations, law firms and hemp product companies.

During the webinar, the USDA announced plans to issue its regulations in fall 2019, in time for the 2020 growing season. However, this timeline may be a tall order, given the number of complex and controversial factors involved, such as plant testing procedures and interstate transportation of hemp and hemp products. Based on the robust discussions during the webinar, any regulations or procedures for plant testing are likely to be heavily scrutinized, as different states test different portions of the plant; test the plants at different times (e.g., before or after harvest); and use different testing methods.

Click here to view the full webinar.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) proposed a new regulation that would require food manufacturers to disclose information about bioengineered (BE) food and BE food ingredients. The proposed rule is the result of a 2016 law that required the USDA to establish a National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard for all food. For purposes of the BE disclosure law, “food” includes alcohol beverages intended for human consumption as well as non-alcohol beverages.

Read the full article.

Originally published in The New Brewer, November/December 2018.

The Agricultural Marketing Service of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently published a proposed rule containing regulations to implement the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard mandated by Congress in 2016. See 83 Fed. Reg. 19860 (May 4, 2018). The proposed regulations would govern the labeling of raw agricultural products and packaged foods whose labeling is governed the federal Food, Drug & Cosmetics Act, including wines below 7 percent alcohol by volume and non-malt beer (e.g., “hard seltzers”). The proposed regulations would not directly apply to alcohol beverages whose labeling is governed by the Federal Alcohol Administration Act, including all distilled spirits, wines containing 7 percent alcohol by volume or greater, and beer containing malted barley and hops. Nevertheless, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau may look to the bioengineered food disclosure regulations as persuasive guidance in developing its own policies towards the disclosure of bioengineered ingredients (often called “genetically modified organisms” or “GMOs”). Continue Reading USDA Publishes Proposed GMO Labeling Regulations

US exporters of alcohol beverages to Canada will soon face stiffer competition from their European rivals. The Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) is expected to come into force by June 1, 2017, and Canadian duties on EU wines, beer and other alcoholic beverages will go to zero immediately. While tariffs on EU wine imports are already fairly low, products such as ciders will have their current duty rate reduced from 28 cents per liter to zero immediately. In fact, the European Commission is already extolling the expanded export opportunities for EU wine and spirit producers as a major selling point for CETA.

The US is expected to enter into formal North American Free Trade Agreement renegotiations with Canada and Mexico this summer. US alcohol beverage producers and trade associations should act now to ensure that the US negotiators protect US market access in Canada and otherwise promote their interests.

The USDA report and list of EU products that will receive duty-free treatment under CETA is available here.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) invited public comments on uses of the term “natural” in food and beverage labeling and whether “natural” should apply only to “unprocessed” foods.  The FDA’s definition of “food” includes alcohol beverages.  The FDA’s current policy is not to restrict use of “natural” unless a food has added color, synthetic substances and certain flavors.  The FDA also interprets “natural” to mean that a food does not have anything artificial or synthetic (including colors additives regardless of source) included in, or added to, the food that would not be expected to be in the food.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has a separate policy that defines “natural” with respect to meat and poultry products:  (1) the product does not contain any artificial flavor or flavoring, coloring, ingredient, chemical preservative, or any other artificial or synthetic ingredient and (2) the product and its ingredients are not more than minimally processed.

The agency sought comments in part because the FDA received four citizen petitions on the topic, including one citizen petition requesting consistency across FDA and USDA with respect to the definition of “natural.”  Federal courts also had requested that the agency determine whether food products with certain ingredients–high fructose corn syrup or ingredients produced using genetic engineering–could be labeled “natural.”  The FDA is interested in knowing under what circumstances the use of the term “natural” should be considered false or misleading.  In the notice, the agency indicated it could revise its policy on “natural” to address production practices used in agriculture and food manufacturing processes such as fermenting and pasteurizing.  The FDA has already received over 1,800 comments in less than two weeks.  The docket will remain open until February 10, 2016.