High time for hemp

The barriers around low-THC commerical hemp production have ... everything to do with perception

TO the untrained eye industrial hemp looks and smells identical to the infamous illicit ‘pot’ plant. The problem is there’s little to suggest our short-sighted government can’t tell the difference either, despite efforts from Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ).

I've only ever smoked three things in my life.

The first was a puff of a “barky” (rolled up bark off a gumtree) behind the wood shed when I was 13. Its flavour, in a word: bushfire. Symptoms: watery eyes, coughing, sore throat, sick tummy and consequent concern about my own levels of stupidity.

The second was a decade later in Amsterdam. Given marijuana’s legality there, I tried to be ultra cool as I choofed on a doobie. Flavour: Musky and herbaceous. Symptoms: bloodshot eyes, coughing, dizziness, extreme hunger and then immediate tiredness. Actually, it was much like Kevin Rudd's Saturday night following the election: confused, disappointed and in bed by 10pm.

The third was in Queensland. At a party on a farm, a neighbour who was a commercial hemp grower brought around a mature plant for show-and-tell. Hours later during a game of truth and dare the inevitable happened and it was chopped, rolled and smoked. Flavour: see marijuana description. Symptoms: see “barky” - nothing.

The fact is, the stuff in the plant that makes you high, THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol), only features in a few of the numerous hemp or cannabis varieties. You need the right plant, with THC levels at 7 per cent and above to get stoned, however a commercial low-THC variety will never get there and if it tests over 1pc, the crop is condemned and destroyed anyway.

As you can imagine, there are many hoops hemp farmers must jump through, even simple things like not growing it roadside, only to find after all the dancing to the tune of pencil-pushing policy makers there’s an almost dead end anyway.

There are limited markets for the end product. It’s like saying you can produce wheat but we can’t eat the grain. As soon as we can legally consume hemp, opportunities to use all parts of the plant will improve, as will the industry as a whole.

The federal and state governments still refuse to give the all clear on the use of hemp seed in food. Once again they hide behind our atrociously clunky food labelling laws.

Australia is one of the few developed countries that don’t allow human consumption of hemp products. This seems ridiculous considering in 1961 we were a signatory at the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotics on the safe uses of hemp for food and fibre. Other signatories have their sights set on hemp being a commercial commodity and already use it in a range of products.

The barriers around the production and promotion of low-THC, commercial hemp have nothing to do with human safety and everything to do with perception. We grow poppies in Tasmania that can actually be turned into opium at home, yet won’t support the consumption of a plant that you can’t actually get high from but just looks like one you can.

The Australian government needs to look past the shape of the leaf, a symbol of Bob Marley, Bob Brown supporters and Bob the local bong-head. We need to open our eyes and - alongside China, Europe and Canada - see it as it is: a commercial seed crop like canola and fibre crop like cotton, but far more diverse.

Hemp’s uses for food, oil and fibre are endless. The hemp seed, or oil, is so rich you could grow babies in the stuff: 33pc protein, extremely high in amino acids and omega 3 and 6. In North America and Europe it’s used to make health bars, salad oils, baked goods and in athlete nutrition, just to name a few.

The fibre is a bi-product of the oil varieties, or a variety of its own is used to make paper, clothing, building materials like Hempcrete, composites and insulation as it is fire retardant. Also BMW, Honda and others use it in car interior to make glove boxes and door panels. Even as animal bedding its naturally anti-bacterial and anti-fungal attributes and high water retention run rings around other products.

It produces more pulp per hectare than timber, is sustainable, grows to maturity in four months and can be recycled more times than wood-based paper. Its canopy wipes out weeds in the paddock and it requires little chemical to grow, just add water.

So let’s hope this new government raises a few restrictions to let this crop take off. It’s not just the growers that are waiting - so are the investors, builders and a growing number of consumers.

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READER COMMENTS

mug
10/09/2013 10:47:33 AM

Keep plugging on folks. This is the crop of the future. The multi nationals stopped it's production after WW2. Seek out the history.
Boadicea
10/09/2013 11:17:08 AM

Couldn't agree more. Have been campaigning in Tasmania for many years. Can't believe the stupidity of the COAG Food and Police Committees who have now delayed until June 2014 the decision on whether to lift the ban on hemp as a food. Will now lobby the new govt perhaps they will be more decisive
itwasntlongago
10/09/2013 3:08:49 PM

Bang on Sam. Also makes a great cover crop with nitrogen fixing abilities. Gotta get past the multinationals in cotton and timber pulp though.
arwse
10/09/2013 5:04:49 PM

soon everything will fall into place and we can peacefully enjoy the benefits of cannabis.
nandalal108
12/09/2013 1:29:48 AM

my father tells me in agronomy they had tons of hemp around his home. Food for cattle, fibre for paper, clothes rope, and the seeds, like making tofu from soy, he said they made similar, sliced it after it was pressed and ate it. Tasty and nutritious. To not go down this path I think is insanity. Wasting all the energy on pine trees, and the degradation of native bush, plus the increased salinity in water supplies, hemp isn't like that.
Paul
12/09/2013 8:27:45 AM

the police have a lot to answer for. I believe their main objection to the consumption of hemp seed is that it *might* interfere with their expensive, ineffective roadside drug testing regime, without producing any evidence to support their position. This is in spite of the fact that hemp seed contains NO THC!!! They also object to unhulled hemp seed, on the dubious grounds that they would be unable to tell the difference between marijuana seeds and hemp seeds.
Adi
15/09/2013 2:35:30 AM

It's unbelievable hemp is not available for consumption in Australia. In Europe eat hemp seed and hemp oil daily; with oceanic fish polluted with heavy metals, I use the stuff for the omega levels. I'm about to move there next year and it just seems well ... backward! :(
Hemp Foods Australia
29/09/2013 1:37:58 PM

Hemp Foods Australia are currently looking for more hemp farmers to produce seed for them. Farming contracts are available now to Government licensed farmers (and they can help get you licensed also). See www.hempfoods.com.au/farming A new sustainable industry for Australia
cvwaller
10/10/2013 12:03:32 AM

Good article, with the exception of the opening statement. Even to the untrained eye, the difference between cannabis crops is readily apparent. Fiber crops are the tallest, most densely planted. Seed crops branch more and are less densely sown. Resin oil crops are much shorter than fiber plants, densely branched and widely spaced. The very best resin oil plants are typically cultivated indoors.
Hempy
10/10/2013 11:58:05 AM

Hemp seeds are grown and sold in Australia. They are also consumed by at least one person that I know... me. They're very good for the brain, cholesterol, blood pressure etc.
Get MuddyTo think clearly in farming and about farming, you need to get muddy - commit, roll up your sleeves and get involved. SAM TRETHEWEY gets stuck into some of the issues facing those on the land.

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