Australia lags as hemp takes off in the US

This month, the United States has lifted a ban on growing industrial hemp for human consumption. In Australia, a ban remains.

Queensland-based industrial hemp company, Ecofibre Industries, says Australia is lagging while the USA surges ahead.

EcoFibre managing director Philip Warner says several US states are pushing ahead with hemp fibre and oil growing projects since the US Farm Bill Hemp Amendment was passed on February 7.

He says Australia has lost the opportunity to export hemp foods and industrial products to the USA and Asia.

Mr Warner just returned from America and says Australia has almost missed the opportunity to sell home-grown hemp technology and knowledge into the Americas as well.

“My next trip, which is in a month’s time, I go to Colorado, California, and then down to Uruguay, where I’ve been very much involved in the new legislation they’ve put through there.

“So really the whole of the Americas is coming on board.

“I would have hoped we would have been ahead of the US and taking advantage of our early position.

“We’ve lost that position.

“We did have the chance to set the standard for what American farmers would have to match up to.

“We’ve got a very innovative farming sector, and we’ve been leading research, development and commercialisation of the industrial hemp supply chain.

“We’ve lost that opportunity with the significant restrictions and complete and absolute crazy concept about the Hemp Foods Bill, which we still haven’t passed after 15 years.”

The latest communique from the Australian and New Zealand Ministers responsible for food regulation states they require further investigation by FSANZ of potential issues relating to the use of low-THC hemp in food products.

Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture, Senator Richard Colbeck, says there are still opportunities for an industrial hemp and food industry in Australia and legislative progress in Australia is being made.

“I was a part of the Food Council meeting last December that considered the latest process.

“It wasn’t a decision-making meeting.

“It was to receive some information and to accept that.

“The final report from that process will come back to our meeting in June this year, so there are a number of pieces of work that are yet to be finalised.

“There is an opportunity for the growth of that industry here in Australia, I believe.

“But it’s a matter of that final process being completed, and that will occur, as I understand it, in June this year.”

Local company can sell hemp food across world – but not here

A LOCAL hemp food company’s products are sold all over the world, but don’t try to eat them here in Australia – it’s still against the law.

Bangalow-based Hemp Foods Australia, which started in 1999, manufactures a range of supplements for the health foods sector such as hulled hemp seeds, seed oil, and protein powder.

In 2011 it opened a small production facility and has expanded to larger premises twice since – tripling its size last financial year – and now employs seven full-time staff and 30 contractors.

The company has a promising future, but founder Paul Benhaim warns he may have to move the business overseas if the government does not make sensible changes to the law soon.

Ironically, growing industrial hemp is legal, but digesting the crop is not.

“Hemp is not marijuana – there are no psycho-active products whatsoever,” the hemp expert, who founded the company after learning of the unique nutritional value of hemp seeds, said.

“In the rest of the world they have hemp milk, hemp pasta, hemp sauces, hemp bread – it’s just considered a regular grain.”

The company is now pinning its hopes on a long-awaited government review to legalise hemp foods.

The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) will meet in June to decide on whether to endorse a recommendation into law by Food Standards Australia and New Zealand that allows hemp foods to be approved as a food in Australia

The hemp industry has the potential to become a “billion dollar industry” in Australia, said Mr Benhaim, but only if the government got behind it.

“Right now we’re bringing $13 million of trade to the Australian economy,” he said.

“We have investors wanting to literally throw millions of dollars at this industry, but they’re very scared of the legal environment.”

Seeds are currently sourced from Victoria and overseas but a variety suitable for the Northern Rivers could be grown locally.

“But the bottom line is if we can’t continue to grow in Australia then it makes more sense to take our business overseas, basically taking everything the government says they want – jobs, environmental support – away.”

Mr Benhaim said hemp is one of the most versatile and eco-friendly substances on our planet.

“The fibre is extremely strong, and the seed is one of the most nutritional compounds known to man.”

“It has the perfect balance of omega 3 and omega 6 oils; it also contains 33% digestible protein, and the quality of the protein is incredible.”

“The potential for it as a food is huge.”

Last week the company sent an invitation to Prime Minister Tony Abbott to tour the facility on the advice of Richmond MP Justine Elliott, after she dropped in to discuss the review. Mr Benhaim also urged people to contact their local members about the situation.

HEMP food benefits

High in omega 3, 6, and 9 essential oils, in the right proportions.

33% protein in the seed, more than 50% protein in powder form

Contains all the amino acids which make up a complete protein, Highly digestible.

Plant-based protein; less energy intensive than meat-based proteins.

Environmental benefits

A guaranteed sustainable source – for food and also fibre for building.

Stalks from the hemp plants are used by the building industry to make hemp houses, which locks in carbon dioxide.

It matures in just 100 days, with the leaves turned back into the soil to maintain soil health for the next crop.

legal history

Was outlawed in the 1960s in the US and Australia at the same time as marijuana, pushed by Randolph Hearst’s media empire and corporate giant DuPont.

The law made no exceptions for non-drug form of cannabis sativa.

Where the US has since made legal changes, Australia hasn’t. In the US, the hemp business is now worth half a billion dollars.

Paul Benhaim has been involved with industrial hemp for 18 years, and is one of Australia’s few experts.

Global hemp-for-food trend illegal

UNLIKE foodies in New York, Los Angeles and Denmark, Australian diners won’t be sitting down to a dessert of weed-oil parsley cake with hemp crumble in the near future.

But some of our top restaurateurs are hoping it won’t stay that way for long.

World-class restaurants across the globe have been dishing up hemp-smoked soft cheese, stuffed with fresh hemp leaves, served with a puree made from roasted and blended seeds and weed yoghurt with pumpernickel-marijuana croutons using low-THC varieties of the plant that do not give the ”high” usually associated with the plant.

But regulator Food Standards Australia New Zealand has repeatedly knocked back applications for hemp to be allowed as foodstuff despite it being legal in Britain, Canada and France.

As part of his innovation with food philosophy, ACT restaurateur Peter Harrington said he was open to using a TCH-free variety of marijuana if it were legal.

“Who knows, we might have it growing here in the hanging herb garden,” he said.

But at the moment basil and mint adorn the walls of the Sage restaurant courtyard. Usually smoked or eaten for its psychoactive effect, some strains of hemp have such small traces of THC that people would have to eat their own body weight in greens to notice any effect. In NSW a licence to grow low-TCH hemp for fibre or oil can be obtained, and the latest application to Food Standards Australia New Zealand for hemp to be allowed as food stuff is set to be considered this year.

Mr Harrington said it was important to give customers what they wanted and in Canberra that often meant pushing the boundaries.

“We are open-minded on using new ingredients … if it was legal and safe we’d definitely be open to looking at it … I don’t think it’s a gimmick. One of the chefs said he finds it complements herbs, but I think what people are looking for is exploring the limits and boundaries.”

The chief executive of the ACT Restaurant and Catering Association, John Hart, warned local chefs to work within Australian laws as the trend grew overseas.

“Usually we are the forefront of innovation, but in this case I don’t think there is much appetite for marijuana-laced dishes,” Mr Hart said.

“Any of these trends we would advise our members to only embark on what is legal and, providing the use of hemp in any form is within the law, then knock yourself out. But it doesn’t strike me as something that would be particularly tasty.”

Marijuana laws the real crime, say HEMP

Australia needs to chill out about marijuana and take its cue from US states Colorado and Washington by legalising the drug, the HEMP Party says.

Help End Marijuana Prohibition (HEMP) Party president Michael Balderstone says Australia needs to spark up a debate and a referendum over marijuana laws.

‘If we had a referendum here and had a proper open discussion – a month-long discussion – I would think it would pass,’ he told AAP.

‘Our stance is that the law is a crime.’

Mr Balderstone argues that the law might also be stopping tax revenue.

In Colorado, the sale of up to 28 grams – or an ounce – of weed became legal on January 1.

State officials anticipate sales will generate about $US67 million ($A75.55 million) in annual tax windfall.

But critics say it will turn the Rockies into the stonies by creating a culture of ‘pot tourism’.

Mr Balderstone does not deny the drug has been linked to psychosis, but argues the health damage is less, on average, than that caused by tobacco and alcohol.

‘Absolutely, it can (cause psychosis),’ he said.

‘It’s not for everybody, I agree.’

But he maintains people who get high are more likely to stay in than go out and cause trouble.

The Australian Drug Foundation warns there is no safe level of drug use.

‘Those with a family history of mental illness are more likely to also experience anxiety, depression and psychotic symptoms after using cannabis,’ the foundation says on its website.

‘Psychotic symptoms include delusions, hallucinations and seeing or hearing things that do not exist or are distorted.’

In May a NSW parliamentary committee recommended legislation to allow medical use of marijuana by patients with a terminal illness, and for those who have moved from HIV infection to AIDS.

The recommendation, rejected by the government, called for patients to have up to 15 grams of dry cannabis or the equivalent amount of other cannabis products and equipment.

A study published in medical journal The Lancet in 2012 showed 15 per cent of Australians and New Zealanders between the ages of 15 and 64 in 2009 used marijuana that year.

That figure was higher than usage in the US, where 11 per cent of the population got high that year.

Australia’s pot laws vary from state to state – the drug is illegal in NSW, Queensland, Victoria and Tasmania.

Possession of marijuana mostly attracts fines in the ACT and NT, while WA users receive mandatory drug diversion counselling if caught with 10 grams.

Marijuana for medical use is legal and regulated in 19 US states, and has been allowed in some cases for the past 20 years.