Hemp food sales get green light from regulator - now it's up to government
HEMP seed has again been recommended for sale as food in Australia and New Zealand – with farmers confident government will allow it for human consumption by the end of next month.
Today’s decision by Food Standards Australia and New Zealand to permit the sale of low-THC hemp seed products as a food – the fourth time it has given the green light since 2002 – was welcomed by Australia’s largest grower of hemp, Hemp Foods Australia.
Food Standards prepared and assessed a proposal to develop a food regulatory measure to allow the sale of food made from the seeds of low delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol varieties of Cannabis sativa.
Not to be confused with its psychoactive cousin marijuana – hemp fibre crops were legalised in NSW in 2008, and have been lauded for versatility, water efficiency, and potential to be used in rotation.
But producers say the lack of legal approval for hemp seeds as food prevents the industry from gaining acceptance as a mainstream broadacre crop.
NSW Primary Industries Minister Niall Blair, and Opposition spokesman Mick Veitch have been supportive of the crop.
"I think we should be looking at the potential of a whole range of crops and markets for NSW," Mr Blair said in 2015.
NSW Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham had told a NSW budget estimates hearing around the same time that he illegally ate hemp seeds for breakfast to show the potential value of the industry.
He said Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce now had to “step up or step off.”
“There can be no more excuses for holding our farmers back from accessing this billion dollar global industry,” Mr Buckingham said today.
“Barnaby Joyce must step up or step off. He is the Deputy Prime Minister and should bang the heads together to make sure this finally becomes law.”
Final approval by ministers has been weighed down by police and public health concerns – including that hemp food can trigger false results in roadside drug tests, and that the sale of hemp food will send the wrong message on drugs.
Hemp seed can be made into flour, protein powders, oil or an alternative to soy milk, and be used like poppy seeds in baking or stir-fries.
The international market for hemp foods is currently estimated at $1 billion annually.
Hemp Foods Australia founder and chief executive, Paul Benhaim, Bangalow, said the demand for Australian hemp foods would quadruple in the next few years, and said the decision by FSANZ was a key step toward encouraging ministers to approve the plant for human consumption.
A decision is due from the Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation on April 28, when the next Council of Australian Governments meeting is scheduled to take place.
Government has knocked back FSANZ’s recommendation on hemp three times in the past 15 years.
“(But) I’m very confident it will be very different this time,” Mr Benhaim said.
”I haven’t seen the results of the (independent drug detection test) but I’ve been given a nod and a wink that the results are absolutely positive (for the industry).”
Hemp seed – which can be legally consumed overseas – contains vitamin E, phosphorus, thiamine, potassium, magnesium, calcium, iron and zinc. It can be made into flour, protein powders, oil or an alternative to soy milk, and be used like poppy seeds in baking or stir-fries.
The trials and tribulations of hemp food in Australia
- FSANZ report in 2002 concluded that “on the basis of the data available, there is no evidence of adverse health effects in humans at low levels of THC exposure and a tolerable daily intake of 6 μg/kg bw can be established. “
- May 2002 – Ministers decide to keep prohibition because it “may send a confused message to consumers about the acceptability and safety of Cannabis”
- December 2009 – new application from Dr Andrew Katelaris
- December 2011 – FSANZ risk assessment finds “that the TDI of 6 μg THC per kg bw remains valid”
- November 2012 – FSANZ approval report approves “a variation to Standard 1.4.4 that permits the sale of foods derived from the seeds of low THC varieties of C. sativa”
- December 2012 – Ministers agree to review, seek advice from police and emergency services
- December 2013 – Ministers agree to consider application
- December 2014 – FSANZ review report “re-affirmed the approval of the variation to Standard 1.4.4”
- January 2015 – Ministers reject application
- July 2015 – Ministers expect to consider again in first quarter 2016
- November 2015 – Ministerial communique confirms police tests delayed to end of 2016
- March 2017 - FSANZ again reccomend low-THC hemp for sale and consumption
- April 28, 2017 - Meeting of the Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation