Australia: Farmers Push to Overturn Hemp Food Ban
By By Jacqueline Street, ABC News
Australians may have consumed a lot of food over the Christmas weekend but it is unlikely many thought about eating hemp.
Products like hemp chocolate and hemp ice cream are available in other countries but are banned in Australia.
Now a group of Tasmanian farmers is renewing a push to overturn the ban.
They say industrial hemp will not make you high and has many health benefits.
Phil Reader, who has been growing industrial hemp in northern Tasmania for five years, says the plant's similarity to cannabis ends at the leaves.
"There's absolutely no drug in it; it's below 0.35 per cent THC, so it cannot be confused with marijuana," he said.
Mr Reader says Tasmania has the ideal climate for growing hemp seeds, but his crop is tightly controlled because under state law hemp is classified as a poison.
"The reason it hasn't taken off is the legislation. In Tasmania we come under the Poisons Act," he said.
"It's not a poison; there's no reason for that to be called a poison."
Mr Reader says industrial hemp is not regarded as a drug crop anywhere else in the world.
"It's only in Tasmania that we have this problem and that means a whole host of issues with regards to licensing, administration and where we can sell the crop," he said.
Hobart hemp producer Brandt Teale says he is frustrated because he believes hemp could be a profitable food product in Tasmania and other states.
"The products being made from it include chocolate bars, food drinks, granola bars like sesame seed-type bars," he said.
Mr Teale says hemp has many health benefits.
"It's proven scientifically to have the highest omega 3 and omega 6 levels of any of the oils, leaving fish oil for dead, leaving flax oil for dead," he said.
The Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association (TFGA) is taking the issue to the State Government next year.
TFGA spokesman Nick Steele says the association will be in discussion with the Government to look at changes to the Poisons Act.
A Government spokeswoman says it is happy to have those discussions but would not comment further.
The hemp producers are also fighting federal laws.
In 2002, Food Standards Australia and New Zealand ruled hemp was safe for human consumption, but Australia's state and federal health ministers overturned the ruling.
The health ministers were concerned hemp could be confused with cannabis.
Mr Teale says New Zealand is allowed to produce hemp food for consumption but Australia has been left out.
"It is really holding back the industry. It's really holding back jobs," he said.
Hemp business operator Phil Warner, who is part of a new application before Food Standards to repeal the hemp foods ban, says the voice of the industrial hemp industry has not been heard.
"There's not a big enough lobby out there from an industrial hemp perspective to be able to do anything about it. There's not enough votes in it," he said.
"Everybody knows there's a significant difference between marijuana and hemp, it's just very lazy politicking and they couldn't be bothered."
Food Standards will put the idea out for public comment in April, with a final decision due in July.