August 30, 2021


Scientists at Australian university explore use of hemp as alternative feed source



Scientists at Australia's Charles Sturt University are playing a key role in new research to understand the opportunities to use industrial hemp as a feed source for sheep and cattle.


The project is funded by AgriFutures Australia and led by the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, Western Australia (DPIRD) with Charles Sturt and ChemCentre. It aims to provide new information to inform regulators and contribute towards an industry code of practice.


Industrial hemp is an emerging crop that shows great potential, but further investigation is needed around its potential for grazing.


"Hemp is a fast-growing, water efficient annual crop that can be grown in a number of Australian states under strict licence conditions for seeds and fibre," Charles Sturt School of Agricultural, Environmental and Veterinary Sciences associate professor Gaye Krebs said.


"A pilot study carried out at Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga identified potential for the crop to be used in livestock feed. But it also highlighted the need for more information, particularly around residues of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in meat."


Industrial hemp contains low levels of this psychoactive compound and under current regulations, no detectible THC should enter the food market through animal products.


Globally, there's been very little research about the breakdown of THC in sheep and cattle and how long it remains in tissue after animals have been fed industrial hemp.


"Our research aims to fill in some of those knowledge gaps to provide the information needed by regulators to allow the crop to be grazed by animals destined for the food chain," DPIRD project lead Dr Bronwyn Blake said.


The research is supported by ChemCentre NATA certified analysis, to complete these essential regulatory and compliance studies that enhance an understanding of industrial hemp feed use by ruminants.


"Hemp seed can be consumed by people, because research has enabled a maximum THC and cannabinoid level to be set and we want to provide the data to allow the same for meat product," ChemCentre food scientist Kenneth Dods said.


The research will build on the findings of the 2020 pilot study, which highlighted the potential value of industrial hemp as a feed source.


"In this new study, we will investigate the feed value and potential for residues in meat from feeding green plant material, as opposed to the crop residue or stubble that was used in the pilot study," Krebs said.


"We will also begin pharmacokinetics studies to get an understanding of how long it may take the THC residues to be cleared from the meat and the animal. The pilot study compared feeding pellets where the roughage component was either from industrial hemp or straw.


"It showed there was no difference in feed intake between the groups, but the sheep fed the hemp pellets had improved nutrient utilisation."


- Food & Beverage Magazine