Stop me if you’ve heard this joke before. An agricultural inspector (i.e.,state regulator) walks into a pet store, walks by the CBD (cannabidiol)products (which are illegal), walks by the pet food made with crickets andsprouted seeds (unapproved ingredients) and questions a “random” food to seeif it is complete and balanced, and properly registered or licensed with thestate.

Unfortunately, there is no punch line, and this very incident happens often.That is, regulatory inspectors blatantly ignore illegal and unapprovedproducts that are being sold by distributors and pet retail shops from coastto coast.

If regulators are going into brick-and-mortar stores to look at and targetproducts that are not registered or licensed or to purchase products forguaranteed analysis and microbial testing, then why are they not removingproducts that are in clear violation of state and federal laws?

CBD, hemp products still not legal or approved

The Food and Drug administration (FDA) continuously updates its page on theregulation of cannabis and cannabis-derived products, including CBD and hemp.The most recent update occurred on January 22, 2021; however, it did notimpact anything we already knew about pet foods and treats. In the Questionsand Answers section, FDA is extremely specific about the legality ofinterstate commerce for animal food or feed (which includes treats) containingCBD or hemp. For example:

10. Is it legal, in interstate commerce, to sell a food (including any animalfood or feed) to which THC or CBD has been added?

Answer: No. Under section 301(ll) of the FD&C Act [21 U.S.C. § 331(ll)],it is prohibited to introduce or deliver for introduction into interstatecommerce any food (including any animal food or feed) to which has been addeda substance which is an active ingredient in a drug product that has beenapproved under section 505 of the FD&C Act [21 U.S.C. § 355] … FDA hastherefore concluded that it is a prohibited act to introduce or deliver forintroduction into interstate commerce any food (including any animal food orfeed) to which THC or CBD has been added.

24. I’ve seen cannabis products being marketed for pets. Are they safe?

Answer: FDA is aware of some cannabis products being marketed as animal healthproducts. We want to stress that FDA has not approved cannabis for any usein animals, and the agency cannot ensure the safety or effectiveness ofthese products

25. Can hemp be added to animal food?

Answer: All ingredients in animal food must be the subject of an approved foodadditive petition or generally recognized as safe (GRAS) for their intendeduse in the intended species. If an animal food contains an ingredient thatis not the subject of an approved food additive petition or GRAS for itsintended use in the intended species, that animal food would beadulterated under section 402(a)(2)(C)(i) of the FD&C Act [21 U.S.C. §342(a)(2)(C)(i)]. In coordination with state feed control officials, CVM alsorecognizes ingredients listed in the Official Publication (OP) of theAssociation of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) as being acceptable foruse in animal food. At this time, there are no approved food additivepetitions or ingredient definitions listed in the AAFCO OP for any substancesderived from hemp, and we are unaware of any GRAS conclusions regarding theuse of any substances derived from hemp in animal food.

For further clarification, AAFCO also provides Guidelines on Hemp in AnimalFood, which states: “As of July 2020, hemp and hemp products may not be usedin animal feed or pet food in the U.S. The 2018 Farm Bill did not grant theright to use hemp and hemp products in food for humans or animals.”

Thus, contrary to popular belief, or what some CBD manufacturers would tellyou, hemp and hemp-derived products are not approved for usage in animalsin foods and treats.

Is there any enforcement of CBD in the pet industry?

In short, no! If you walk into a pet store, you will see a plethora of CBD andhemp products for dogs and cats including treats, chews, peanut butter, honeyand balms/gels. In general, these companies tend to utilize the term “CBD” andoften known drug claims (i.e., cure, prevent, treat or mitigate) or a diseasestate (i.e., anxiety, pain, cancer, etc.) on their websites and/or socialmedia. This is a problem, because utilizing drug claims for marketing of CBDproducts is illegal since CBD would have to be approved by FDA to “cure,prevent, treat or mitigate” such a condition—and it is not.

Many CBD companies have utilized such claims and, surprisingly, some still do.However, given the FDA administering warning letters against companies whomake such claims, we have started to see some companies clean up their labels.That said, only a handful have received FDA warning letters. In fact, to date,less than 20 CBD pet product companies have been warned by the FDA. Further,many of the companies warned do not really have a presence in the pet storechannel.

For example, Super Snouts Hemp Company offers you a fun, tasty treat todeliver CBD to your best friend in peanut butter (240 mg of water-solubleCBD). Another example: Honest Paws offers soft chews to calm nervous pets,relieve occasional aches and discomfort, and provide great comfort in lifewith virtually zero side effects (5mg CBD per bone-shaped chew). Yet anotherexample, Charlotte’s Web Calming Chews, contain 2.5mg of plant-basedcannabinoids per chew and help with doggie stresses, anxiousness and emotionalbalance.

These issues are in addition to the fact that hemp products in the marketplaceare largely not standardized. For example, a recent study by CornellUniversity showed 10 of 29 CBD products tested were within 10% of theconcentration on the label. That same study also showed that heavy metalcontaminants were found in four of 29 products. This means that many CBDcompanies are not policing themselves, on top of regulatory authoritiesturning a blind eye. Talk about the Wild West!

Why isn’t there any enforcement?

Great question! The laws and regulations for CBD and hemp for dogs and catsare black and white. Further, with acknowledgement of such laws andregulations by federal, state agencies and AAFCO, it makes you wonder whythere is failure to enforce them? It is not like inspectors do not see it whenthey walk into the store to determine who has properly registered their foodsand treats to pay their yearly license/registration or tonnage fees. Or thatthe information from such companies and manufacturers is not clearlyaccessible on their computers at home or in the office.

Maybe the lack of enforcement is because the CBD pet space is estimated to beworth US$175–225 million across all channels by 2025? Let’s face it, if CBDhad been properly regulated and enforced from the beginning, state and federalagencies would not be in this situation.

Other unapproved ingredients not being enforced

Unfortunately, CBD/hemp is not the only “non-approved’” ingredient in themarketplace that lacks enforcement by state and federal agencies. Despite thestate of the industry and general lack of enforcement and accountability, thisshould not come as a surprise. If they fail to enforce a “drug” from being putinto a pet food, how are authorities going to enforce other ingredients thathave been in the marketplace for years or are starting to gain traction in themarketplace, like crickets, sprouted grains and seeds, kefir and others?

By the way, none of those ingredients have scientific information to supporttheir benefits, never mind any nutritional adequacy in dogs and cats. What isworse is that we do not even know if such ingredients have detrimentaleffects. After the canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) debacle, we as anindustry should know better.

What will it take for enforcement to happen?

When I am asked, “How are these ingredients in marketplace?” I often respond,“I don’t know. Good question.” I am also often asked, “What will it take forenforcement?” In my opinion, it will likely take animals getting sick ordying. Which is not the right answer!

Unfortunately, this issue gets further amplified because the barrier of entryinto the marketplace is at an all-time low, since companies can sell directlyto consumers and avoid brick-and-mortar distribution (and productregistration) altogether.

We know federal agencies cannot say it is a lack of resources; think of howmuch time was wasted chasing the hypothesis that DCM was caused by grain-freepet foods—only to find out it that it is a multi-factorial issue withpotential variables including, but not limited to, breed, age, weight,gastrointestinal disease, atopy, infection and more. (Which is something wealready knew!)

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