Hemp grows at the Borderview Research Farm in Alburgh on Thursday, July 25, 2019. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger
A globally recognized food allergen testing company has expanded their operations into one of Vermont’s newest industries — cannabis and hemp.
At a new lab in Colchester, Bia Diagnostics will test the potency and safety of cannabis products people bring through the doors.
The company’s decision to open the lab stemmed from “the fact that there is an issue around being able to test and determine quality, and wanting to be part of that solution,” Bia CFO and co-founder Robin Grace said.
Bia Diagnostics is a leader in testing food allergens, working with food manufacturers all over the world. The company, headquartered in Colchester, was started 12 and a half years ago.
At the lab, tests will be conducted to determine the potency of the two main active compounds in cannabis — tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the psychoactive component found in marijuana, and cannabidiol, or CBD. They will also test for harmful substances like pesticides, heavy metals and microbial bodies.
Bia Diagnostics partnered with a private company to furnish their facility with new equipment needed for testing cannabis, according to Grace.
Cannabis and cannabis-derived products have become increasingly popular as state and federal laws have changed in recent years. The 2018 farm bill lifted a federal ban on hemp cultivation, leaving states to set up their own regulatory policies and opening up the industry.
Under a state law adopted last year, it is legal for adults to possess and grow marijuana in small quantities. Vermont lawmakers have proposed legislation to create a regulated market for pot, and Grace hopes the new testing lab would support future regulations.
To announce the launch of the new lab, Bia welcomed state officials, including from the Agency of Agriculture, and locals at an open house Thursday.
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“We seem to have a pretty good reception,” Grace said.
Keeping the testing within state boundaries will help Vermont growers access their test results much sooner than if they had to bring the product elsewhere. Grace said results can be returned “typically…anywhere between two to five days.”
Agency of Agriculture Secretary Anson Tebbetts sees the facility as a benefit on many levels for Vermont.
Tebbetts said the lab will be an immense help for Vermont’s 900 registered hemp growers, and will help producers monitor the quality and safety of their crop.
“We want to develop a program that is much like our artisan cheese and our craft beer and our spirits and our wines,” Tebbetts said Friday afternoon. “That needs to be backed up with quality assurance.”
In order for Vermont to have a strong hemp market, Tebbetts said this testing is crucial to make the hemp industry as strong as can be, hoping to achieve a similar reputation to Vermont’s pure maple syrup.
Tebbetts said the new facility has a positive economic impact, pointing to the creation of new jobs to oversee the testing facility and the purchase of the equipment.
“We can say that the hemp industry already is having a positive economic impact outside just the people that are growing it,” Tebbetts said.
Tebbetts said he hopes future partnerships between private labs and labs operated by the Agency of Agriculture, like the one located a Vermont Technical College in Randolph, will help with future development of stronger and safer hemp policy.
Currently, there is no safe level of pesticides in hemp, according to Cary Giguere who is the director of public health, agricultural resource management at the Agency of Agriculture.
Giguere also noted a recent effort by the Environmental Protection Agency seeking public input about 10 pesticides and their application in growing hemp. Giguere hopes this effort will help lead policy creation for what is a safe level for growing hemp.
According to Giguere, Bia Diagnostics’ lab is the eighth testing facility to open in Vermont.
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