K-State looks at safety of hemp as cattle feed

Published: Sep. 12, 2020 at 5:37 PM CDT
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MANHATTAN, Kan. (WIBW) - Kansas State University is among the first to research and analyze the safety of industrial hemp being used as cattle feed.

Kansas State University says a pair of studies are highlighting the use of industrial hemp in cattle feed to farmers and producers.

According to K-State, after the 2018 Farm Bill legalized hemp production in the U.S., interest in using industrial hemp as an agricultural commodity and feed for animals has grown. It said the FDA approval through the Association of Amercian Feed Control Officials would be required before it could be used to feed livestock or pets.

“Although hemp can be legally cultivated under license in Kansas, feeding hemp products to livestock remains prohibited because the potential for cannabinoid drug residues to accumulate in meat and milk has not been studied,” said Hans Coetzee, professor and head of the anatomy and physiology department in the College of Veterinary Medicine.

K-State said a team of its researchers recently was awarded a $200,000 Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Competitive Grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture to establish concentrations of cannabinoids in livestock after exposure to industrial hemp.

“Industrial hemp is typically grown to produce oil, seed, fiber and medicines,” said Michael Kleinhenz, assistant professor of beef production medicine. “While varieties of hemp may be planted for a single or dual purpose, such as for seed and fiber, byproducts consisting of leaves, fodder and residual plant fibers remain after harvest. These byproducts could serve as potential feedstuffs for animals. Because these are predominantly cellulose-containing plant materials, the ideal species for utilizing these feeds are ruminant animals, specifically cattle.”

According to K-State, while there has been interest in the use of hemp for cattle feeds, there are still questions on whether the feed can be used safely due to concerns of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, intoxication and the presence of other bioactive cannabinoids.

Kleinhenz said he noticed that most research was focused on humans, mice and swine, but not on cattle.

“This is surprising because cattle can readily utilize industrial hemp byproducts as they can digest cellulose plant materials in their rumens,” Kleinhenz said.

According to the school, Kleinhenz is part of a multidisciplinary research team made up of pharmacologists, toxicologists, analytical chemists and horticulture experts. It said the hemp used in the studies was grown at its John C. Pair Horticultural Center near Wichita. It said other K-State researchers involved in the study include Geraldine Magnin, Zhoumeng Lin, Steve Ensley, Jason Griffin, Katie E. Kleinhenz, Shawnee Montgomery, Andrew Curtis, Miriam Martin and Coetzee. It said the team also includes John Goeser and Eva Lunch of Rock River Laboratories.

“We observed that the acidic cannabinoids, such as CBDA and THCA, are more readily absorbed from the rumen than other nonacid cannabinoid forms, such as CBD and CBG,” Kleinhenz said. “Now that we have found that some cannabinoids are readily absorbed from the rumen, the next steps are to study the tissue and milk residue depletion profiles of these compounds after animal feeding experiments. The effects of cannabinoids on cattle are also unknown.”

K-State said follow-up experiments will include pilot studies to determine the effect of feeding hemp on animal behavior and immune function.

“Our goal is to fill in the knowledge gaps,” Kleinhenz said. “Until feedstuffs containing hemp are established as safe in animals, our data will assist producers in managing situations involving intentional or unintentional hemp exposures.”

According to K-State, the two published studies are “Nutrient concentrations, digestibility, and cannabinoid concentrations of industrial hemp plant components," published in the journal of Applied Animal Science, and Plasma concentrations of eleven cannabinoids in cattle following oral administration of industrial hemp (Cannabis sativa)," published in Scientific Reports.

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