Setback for organic hemp industry

Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) announced in December that COAG Ministers sought a review on the proposed standard for low THC hemp as food, with Ministers agreeing to seek advice from the Standing Council on Police and Emergency Services.

Biological Farmers of Australia (BFA) say this latest setback was a major disappointment to the Australian hemp industry, which sees great potential for a local hemp seed products industry that could replace imports and follow Canada’s move to certified organic production. In 2010, Canada’s exports of hemp products were valued at more than $10 million, with most exports going to the US.

The application to approve the use of low THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) hemp as a food was approved by FSANZ in November 2012, following a process that started in December 2011. FSANZ stated that hemp is cultivated in Australia and New Zealand under strict licensing arrangements.

“FSANZ is satisfied that low THC hemp foods are safe for consumption when they contain no more than the specified maximum levels (mls) of THC. FSANZ has also recognised that foods derived from hemp seeds may provide a useful alternative dietary source of many nutrients and polyunsaturated fatty acids, particularly omega-3 fatty acids.”

Lyn Stephenson of the not-for-profit Industrial Hemp Association of Victoria says she was incredibly disappointed and that the decision was “buck passing” and perpetuating a myth that hemp is bad for people.

“In the US you can eat it but not grow it, while in Australia you can grow it but not eat it,” she says.

“Farmers want to grow it and we have cold pressing facilities in Australia.”

Australian Certified Organic-certified supplier Paul Benhaim of NSW’s Hemp Foods Australia says he is not too surprised that the decision was delayed again.

“We just have to follow the steps in the process but I did expect a result,” he says.

Mr Benhaim is building a 1000-square-metre state-of-the-art hemp foods production plant in Bangalow, Northern NSW.

Secretary of the Northern Rivers Hemp Association and hemp farmer Klara Marosszeky says that people in the industry are disappointed that hemp as food wasn’t approved, but that it had isolated the issue as being a police one, while nutritional information and safety has been addressed.

A major environmental advantage of hemp seed is that it is an omega-3 plant-based alternative to unsustainable factory farming of Arctic and Antarctic krill for omega-3 oils, while global omega-3 fisheries are at near capacity. In 2010, US chain Whole Foods Market banned krill oil omega-3 supplements due to sustainability issues.