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HIGHLIGHTS
  1. True Leaf signs MOU with distributor in South Korea
  2. CBD pet care industry value expected to soar exponentially
  3. Canadian vets lobby government to allow medical cannabis for pets

A hemp pet-care company in British Columbia could soon see its products on shelves in Asia, a heavily populated region targeted by the ballooning industry as increasing acceptance of cannabis-related products has manufacturers eyeing growth. Pet owners look to the products to calm their animals and even soothe ailments such as joint pain.

On Wednesday, Vernon-based True Leaf Brands Inc. said it signed a non-binding Memorandum of Understanding with international pet care distributor Eagle Vet to introduce its products to South Korean stores, veterinary clinics, and e-commerce sites. True Leaf makes hemp-based pet products that are sold in around 3,500 stores in North America and Europe.

CBD is one of the many cannabinoids that grows naturally in cannabis and hemp, and is being touted for health and wellness benefits such as anxiety, inflammation, arthritis and pain reduction. The federal legalization of recreational cannabis in Canada and hemp-derived CBD in the United States, combined with laws permitting cannabis-derived CBD in some states, means pet care manufacturers are going gangbusters with product development.

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True Leaf’s efforts to reach the South Korean market come after hiring Kevin Cole, a former Mars Petcare executive, as president of True Leaf Pet.

“We are prepared for when CBD based products are legal in Canada and the United States, and state-to-state, to move forward. At this point we are monitoring the situation while we focus on hemp seed products that are currently approved by market,” Mr. Cole said.

“Hemp seed, CBD will become a greater influence in pet care and accelerate the growth beyond that forecast. The social acceptance and understanding is continuing to build daily.”

With the expectation for scientific evidence to prove that CBD benefits both people and animals, Mr. Cole expects this will not be a short-term trend.

The company plans to launch a higher-strength hemp leaf product that will be double the price of its current product, said Darcy Bomford, founder and chief executive of True Leaf.

“In the U.S., we expect (CBD) to be very popular and take over the majority of our sales,” Mr. Bomford said.

This step toward expanding into an Asian market is the latest sign that the animal product industry is on track for exponential growth as pet owners seek natural products that are rapidly becoming popular, such as cannabidiol, or CBD. This cannabinoid is derived from industrial hemp and cannabis, which has become increasingly popular despite limited scientific evidence, after Canada legalized recreational cannabis and the United States legalized industrial hemp.

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In the United States, the market for CBD pet care products is forecast to be a boon for manufacturers, with significant growth also expected in Canada. BDS Analytics forecasts this market segment will be worth US$810.2-million by 2024, up more than 12 times its worth in 2018 at US$63.8-million. In 2018, CBD products labelled specifically for pets in the United States represented just 3 per cent of CBD items, said Christine Arrington, senior analyst for BDS.

“This is driven by both consumer interest and state governments providing more clarity to the veterinary and pet care industry which will help resolve some of the reluctance care givers have had in treating pets with CBD because of legal ambiguity,” Ms. Arrington said.

“Additionally, as the pet care industry sees more results from scientific studies, the comfort level will rise in both pet parents and care providers in using CBD in their treatment or supplement regimens.”

Estimates for this new market segment, however, vary widely. Brightfield Group pegs CBD-infused pet products in the United States at US$32-million in 2018 and forecasts it will balloon to nearly US$1.2-billion by 2022.

In addition to increasing interest in CBD pet products, veterinarians in Canada are lobbying the government to authorize the use of medical cannabis for pets, even as scientific research on the non-intoxicating compound is in its infancy. Consumers often focus on anecdotal evidence showing CBD can be used to reduce symptoms such as pain and inflammation.

Canadian veterinarians are circulating a petition to allow them to provide “necessary medication” and arms-length oversight on its dispensing as well as to educate pet owners on safe cannabis use.

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The petition states that vets often receive questions about ways to treat pets who suffer from pain, seizures, arthritis and anxiety, but the Cannabis Act prohibits them from authorizing cannabis use for pets, meaning owners resort to using products meant for human use without proper guidance and dosing.

This comes several years after medical marijuana was legalized for people and months after it was legalized for recreational adult use in October, 2018.

But companies such as True Leaf are unable to make pet products with extracted CBD and pet stores are unable to sell such products, since hemp-derived CBD was placed under the Cannabis Act last year, permitting only licensed producers and retailers to sell it.

Hemp, on the other hand, was listed as a food product in Canada roughly two decades ago.

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