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hemp bird seed

Hemp bird seed
After discussing how popular hemp seed was for wild bird feeding for decades, they explain how federal laws have made it difficult to grow or import even strains with extremely low psychotropic value but why the tide may be turning:

Some day, you may be able to offer hemp seed as bird food

Published December 28, 2018

Sunflower is the single seed best for bird feeding — at least, that’s what I’ve been telling people since I first started feeding backyard birds in 1981. It attracts a wide variety, from chickadees and sparrows to jays and grosbeaks. Sunflower’s high protein content is nutritious, and the high oil content is extremely valuable in winter.

Unfortunately, insects take a heavy toll on sunflower crops unless farmers apply pesticides, but this is true of virtually all crops.

One seed is just as nutritious as sunflower but much more resistant to insect pests. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison grew it for fiber. In 1942, the United States government promoted it as a necessary crop to win the war. And it’s listed among the best seeds for birds in older bird books. But I’ve never fed it to birds, and it’s not mentioned in any of my newer bird books. Why? Hemp has been illegal to grow in the U.S. for any reason without a special permit since 1970.

Now, in 2018, with a number of states legalizing marijuana use for certain medical conditions and even for recreational use, farmers are becoming increasingly interested in growing hemp, both the cultivars used to serve the marijuana market and the “industrial hemp” varieties that have too low a psychotropic content for use as a drug.

So far, most growers are focused on hemp fiber and hemp oil for human consumption, but one Canadian grower is marketing some for bird feeding.

‘Hemp, the Devil’s Birdseed’

In the chapter “Hemp, the Devil’s Birdseed” in their superb book, Feeding Wild Birds in America: Culture, Commerce, and Conservation (Texas A&M University Press, 2015), Paul J. Baicich, Margaret A. Barker, and Carrol L. Henderson write about the history of industrial hemp farming. [Read our review of the book.]

After discussing how popular hemp seed was for wild bird feeding for decades, they explain how federal laws have made it difficult to grow or import even strains with extremely low psychotropic value but why the tide may be turning:

“While it is illegal to raise industrial hemp in the U.S., numerous efforts are underway to return industrial hemp production to the position it once held. At least eight states have laws allowing for industrial hemp cultivation, despite a clash with federal law. The Drug Enforcement Agency still does not permit such production.”

Since the book’s 2015 publication, that is changing, at least a little. I live in Minnesota, where, starting in 2016, a handful of farmers have been growing industrial hemp as part of a pilot program by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture following strict federal guidelines. Following the 2017 growing season, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s website noted, “There are plenty of pilot participants that see much opportunity on the processing, value-added side, but acknowledge it will take time and plenty of money to get an industry established.”

Henderson is leading a hemp-seed testing program in Minnesota. Phase II begins on January 1 and runs through February 15. And you may have heard that the 2018 Farm Bill, which was just recently passed into law, legalizes hemp production. Eventually, the U.S. Department of Agriculture can create guidelines for the use and production of industrial hemp — including as bird food.

It will take years for hemp seed to be easily available and affordable. But as Carrol Henderson told me, “It’s nice to see a birdseed crop that would have zero anticipated pesticide use.” For those of us who love our backyard birds, hemp seed will be well worth waiting for.

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Last year, Canada declared hemp a legitimate crop and has granted growers’ licenses for 35,000 acres. Britain, France and Germany also have commercial hemp industries. The states of Hawaii, North Dakota and Minnesota passed laws approving hemp this year as a crop for hard-pressed farmers.

Bird Food Is a Casualty of the War on Drugs

By Christopher S. Wren

    Oct. 3, 1999

What do 40,000 pounds of birdseed have in common with America’s war on drugs?

Nothing, says Jean Laprise, an Ontario farmer who shipped the birdseed to his American customers only to have it seized when it crossed the United States-Canadian border.

Everything, say the United States Government and its critics, but for altogether different reasons.

The birdseed, nearly 20 tons of it, has been locked in a Detroit warehouse since Aug. 9, when it was impounded by the United States Customs Service. The reason: The seed consists of sterilized seeds processed from industrial hemp.

Mr. Laprise has found himself mired in one of the more bizarre episodes of Washington’s campaign to curb illicit drug use. Hemp and marijuana are different varieties of the same plant species, Cannabis sativa, though the Government rarely distinguishes between them.

”They say it’s a tractor-trailer full of drugs,” Mr. Laprise said. ”We say it’s a tractor-trailer full of birdseed.”

But while smoking marijuana delivers a psychoactive high, smoking hemp gives only a headache. Tetrahydrocannabinol, known as THC, the psychoactive component in marijuana, usually varies between 4 percent and 20 percent of a leaf. Industrial hemp has a THC content below 1 percent. The birdseed seized in Detroit had a THC content of barely .0014 percent, which wouldn’t give a bird a buzz.

John W. Roulac, the president of Nutiva, a company in Sebastopol, Calif., that buys hemp seeds from Mr. Laprise’s operation for food products, said that seeds themselves have no THC, and that whatever gets detected comes from contact with leaves of the hemp plant.

Mr. Roulac said the amount of THC was ”like an olive pit in a railroad boxcar.”

Mr. Laprise, whose company, Kenex Ltd., grows and processes hemp with the approval of the Canadian Government, said that ”all of our other products have no detectable level of THC. The only shipment with any detectable amount was the birdseed, and it was really nothing.”

Though the United States Government views hemp with suspicion, it was historically an agricultural staple used in everything from ropes and sails to clothing and the first American flag supposedly sewn by Betsy Ross. It has been virtually illegal since 1937.

Last year, Canada declared hemp a legitimate crop and has granted growers’ licenses for 35,000 acres. Britain, France and Germany also have commercial hemp industries. The states of Hawaii, North Dakota and Minnesota passed laws approving hemp this year as a crop for hard-pressed farmers.

Kenex’s customers, who snap up Mr. Laprise’s hemp seeds and fibers for uses as varied as food for animals and people, beauty products and horse bedding, have been outraged by the seizure in Detroit.

”What in the heck are they doing arresting birdseed?” said Anita Roddick, the British founder of the Body Shop, whose organic hair- and skin-care products have used hemp oil produced by Mr. Laprise.

”It’s so Monty Pythonesque,” Ms. Roddick said, referring to the antic comedians who mocked life’s absurdities. ”They’re chasing around bloody birdseed. It’s making the D.E.A. look stupid.”

Federal law-enforcement officials defended the seizure. Terry Parham, a spokesman for the Drug Enforcement Administration, said, ”Our understanding is there is no legal way for hemp seed to have come in that contains any quantity of THC.” Mr. Parham explained that no product containing THC could be imported except by a company registered with the drug agency, and that no companies were registered.

Drug-policy critics like Ethan Nadelmann, the president of the Lindesmith Center, a New York group that advocates a more liberal drug policy, reacted to the birdseed seizure with glee, contending that it shows how dumb the war on drugs can get.

Mr. Laprise said the Customs Service also ordered him to recall his earlier exports to the United States of hemp oil, horse bedding, animal feed and granola bars, or face more than $500,000 in fines. He cannot comply, he said, because the products have been used or consumed.

Meanwhile, a report by the United States Department of Agriculture assessing the potential of hemp growing has made the rounds of the Federal Government. The report’s beige cover is stamped ”Classified.”

”I can’t figure out why they classified this,” said a Government official who let a reporter take a peek. The study said there was a limited niche market for hemp products, like Mr. Laprise’s birdseed.