I RECENTLY visited an industrial hemp production factory on the NSW North Coast. Now don’t jump to any conclusions! There was nothing illegal about it.
Like most people, I had previously thought 'illicit drugs' when I heard the words 'hemp' or 'cannabis'. It is actually not the case.
To minimise confusion, I will use the term 'industrial hemp' - and it is not the same as 'marijuana'.
Industrial hemp plant varieties can be grown with minimum psychoactive constituents (THC) and, therefore, they are not capable of being used as recreational drugs.
Industrial hemp is cultivated worldwide, including in Australia and New Zealand (under strict licensing arrangements), and you may not be aware but it's currently used in Australia as a source of fibre, material production and building products.
The factory I visited produces industrial hemp seed-based food and fibre products. The food derived from industrial hemp seeds is exported and sold for human consumption in most overseas countries including the US, Canada, Japan and the EU, but not here in Australia.
In Australia these products can only be sold for 'topical' use, that is, for external use only.
Lifting the prohibition of industrial hemp seeds as a food in Australia could result in significant benefits for Australian farmers, adding value to crops and increasing food processing opportunities for local companies, while providing substantial health benefits for Australian consumers.
Industrial hemp is one of the most versatile and eco-friendly crops available. Numerous biodegradable products can be made from it, including textiles, building materials, paper, a range of composite materials and fuel.
It grows without herbicides, fungicides or pesticides and is a great rotation crop.
With an increasing demand for protein-rich foods, legalising industrial hemp seed as food offers Australian primary producers and manufacturers the opportunity to participate in the growing international demand for 'super foods', of which the industrial hemp seed is a 'super hero'.
Industrial hemp seeds are incredibly nutrient-dense. I am told they contain vitamins D3, E and A, cholesterol-fighting phytosterols and are one of only a few sources of gamma linolenic acid (GLA), an essential fatty acid thought to be responsible for much of the anti-inflammatory properties that make industrial hemp seed oil popular with people suffering arthritis and eczema.
The Canadian industrial hemp industry was founded in 1998 with support of the Canadian Government. Since then, cultivation, manufacturing and export of its products has been steadily growing as domestic and international demand rises.
In 2011, Canadian industrial hemp seed production was approximately 15,500 tonnes, with an estimated gross revenue of between $30 to $34 million for farmers; while in the US, the total retail value of industrial hemp products exceeded $500 million in 2012.
In 2012, in response to application A1039 to legalise low THC industrial hemp as food, Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) recommended that industrial hemp be approved as a food source.
The FSANZ report stated that it was satisfied that low (<0.3 per cent) THC (delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol) industrial hemp foods are safe for consumption when they contain no more than the specified maximum THC levels of 10mg/kg in food.
Yet State and Territory politicians and their officials are still arguing the toss.
There seems to be a lack of information and a misunderstanding of the differences between the high THC marijuana and industrial hemp which is inhibiting the discussion on lifting the ban on the production of industrial hemp seeds as a food source in Australia.