Why Hemp Food is still illegal – By Guy Stewart

I trust that everyone is now aware that farmers in NSW can cultivate low-THC cannabis (hemp) for industrial use. Frustratingly the most valuable part of the plant, the seed for human consumption is still prohibited. The NSW government does not prohibit the use of hemp food, although they do not specifically allow for it either, Victoria & Northern Territory are the only states that currently do that. In Victoria, food products prepared from Cannabis seeds that do not contain more than 10 mg/kg THC or whole seeds are exempt from the provisions of the Misuse of Drugs Acts(1). However, hemp food is still not widely available there.

There is some confusion with where the authority actually rests. A recent letter received from the Office of Tony Burke the Federal Minister for Agriculture stated;

Responsibility for developing and approving new food standards, or variations to food standards rests with the Food Standard Australia New Zealand (FSANZ). FSANZ is an independent statutory authority that develops and amends food standards for composition, labelling and contaminants, including microbiological limits, that apply to all foods produced or imported for sale in Australia and New Zealand. For matters relating to to food proposals and submissions, you should contact FSANZ directly on 02 6271 2222 or visit www.foodstandards.gov.au .


Application A360 (USE OF INDUSTRIAL HEMP AS A NOVEL FOOD) was recommended by FSANZ (then named Australia New Zealand Food Authority or ANZFA) for approval, but was then rejected by the Australia and New Zealand Food Regulation Ministerial Council (then named Australia New Zealand Food Standards Council) based on the concern that the use of hemp in food may send a confused message to consumers about the acceptability and safety of Cannabis.(2) There were also concerns about law enforcement issues, particularly from a policing perspective that there were difficulties in distinguishing between high THC Cannabis and low THC hemp products.

Contrary to the minister’s statement FSANZ can only make recommendations to the Ministerial Council (ANZFRMC) on which he sits.

It is then the ANZFRMC’s decision to adopt the draft standards or draft variations of standards, which results in their incorporation into the Australian New Zealand Food Code.

The confusion is perpetuated by the government’s national drug strategy, which (incorrectly) states “Cannabis is derived from the hemp plant and contains the active substrate tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).” (7)

It was stated by the house secretary in the parliamentary debate of the NSW Hemp Bill 2008 that Chinese & Hungarian Farmers have been growing hemp for thousands of years and still maintain the legal separation between High and Low THC Cannabis seed (4). They would view our law as most naive.

On 22nd of December FSANZ accepted a new Application A1039(2) to allow hemp food that is currently prohibited in Food Standard 1.4.4. based on the Premarket safety assessment conducted for Application (A360) and that it should be presented to ANZFSC for re-assessment.

FSANZ’s Proposed Timeframe for Assessment:

‘Early Bird Notification’ due: 22 January 2010
General Procedure: Commence Assessment (clock start): Mid-October 2010
Completion of Assessment: Early-March 2011
Public comment: Late March-Mid May 2011
Board to complete Approval: Mid-July 2011
Notification to Ministerial Council: Late July 2011
Anticipated gazettal if no review requested: Early October 2011

There remains a previous but still uncontested World Trade Organisation (WTO) obligation to liberalise the market as there are no identified public health or safety concerns(5). NRHA has been contacted by Canadian Firms who are interested in the Australian Market for Hemp. Our alternative growing season could supply fresh seed for high quality markets in Canada. While their further developed products, value adding processes, cultivated varieties and experience could help bootstrap the Australian Industry.
Currently, this trade is blocked.

The Canadian Hemp industry first exported hemp seed and oil in 2006. Today it is a multimillion dollar industry. 59% of exports are to the United States where hemp food is legal but hemp cultivation is not.(3)

Curiously Hemp Seed Oil is currently available in New Zealand(6). There now exists a trade harmonisation issue between Australia and New Zealand. The traffic of hemp seed oil between the two countries is an untested issue for Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS), Customs & other jurisdictions. Premium Hemp Seed Oil from New Zealand labeled Not for Human Consumption in Australia is sometimes available but cost prohibitive.

There is good work to be done right now in lobbying to have the roadblocks removed. Without additional pressure on ANZFRMC, Local MP’s and the Federal Government it is very likely that the current application will be denied again on the same grounds due to the inherent inertia & other unseen influences on these public policy bodies.

If you would like to participate in some grass roots political influence, call your local MP and help them to understand these important issues.

(1) Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Act 1981 No. 9719 of 1981 <http://www.legislation.vic.gov.au/Domino/Web_Notes/LDMS/PubLawToday.nsf/95c43dd4eac71a68ca256dde00056e7b/8e9a09b0863d373aca257569001253e4!OpenDocument> pp. 22
(2) Food Standard Australia New Zealand, 2010, Application A1039 <http://www.foodstandards.gov.au/_srcfiles/A1039%20Low%20THC%20Hemp%20AAR%20FINAL.pdf>
(3) Statistics Canada, May 2008 Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Industrial Hemp Statistics <http://www4.agr.gc.ca/AAFC-AAC/display-afficher.do?id=1174495716187&lang=eng>
(4) TSAN, The Hon. HENRY Hemp Industry Bill 2008 (House of Representatives) http://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/prod/PARLMENT/hansArt.nsf/V3Key/LC20080625056
(5) Food Standard Australia New Zealand, 2010, Application A360 <http://www.foodstandards.gov.au/_srcfiles/A360_Final%20AR.pdf> pp. 19
(6) New Zealand Food Safety Authority, Sale of hemp seed oil as food <http://www.nzfsa.govt.nz/consumers/chemicals-nutrients-additives-and-toxins/hemp-seed-oil-as-food/>
(7) Comorbidity of mental disorders and substance use: a brief guide for the primary care clinician; 3.1 Cannabis/ Hallucinogens <http://www.nationaldrugstrategy.gov.au/internet/drugstrategy/publishing.nsf/Content/mono71-toc~mono71-3~mono71-3-1>

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