Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Hemp ice cream anyone?

Australians may have consumed a lot of food over the Christmas weekend but it's unlikely many thought about eating hemp. Products like hemp chocolate and hemp ice cream are available in other countries but they're banned in Australia Now a group of Tasmanian farmers is renewing a push to overturn the ban. The farmers say that industrial hemp won't make you high and has many health benefits.

In Hobart, Jacqueline Street reports. JACQUELINE STREET: The farmers who grow hemp say its similarity to cannabis ends at the leaves. PHIL READER: There's absolutely no drug in it; it's below 0.35 per cent THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), so it cannot be confused with marijuana.

JACQUELINE STREET: Phil Reader has been growing industrial hemp in northern Tasmania for five years and says the state has the ideal climate for growing hemp seeds. But his crop is very tightly controlled because under Tasmanian law, hemp is classified as a poison.

PHIL READER: The reason it hasn't taken off is the legislation. In Tasmania we come under the Poisons Act. It's not a poison; there's no reason for that to be called a poison, because of no THC anywhere else in the world it's not regarded as a drug crop, 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.

JACQUELINE STREET: A hemp producer in Hobart, Brandt Teale, says he's frustrated because he believes hemp could be a profitable food product in Tasmania and other states.

BRANDT TEALE: The products being made from it include chocolate bars, food drinks, granola bars, like sesame-seed type bars. 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.

JACQUELINE STREET: The Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association is taking the issue to the State Government next year.

NICK STEELE: So it's very small at the moment but those farmers certainly want to see it grow and put in within their rotation. So the TFGA are discussing are discussing that with the State Government, to look at changes within the Poisons Act to see if we can assist farmers to grow the hemp industry in Tasmania.

JACQUELINE STREET: A Tasmanian Government spokeswoman says the Government is happy to have those discussions but wouldn't comment further.

The hemp producers are also fighting Federal laws. Food Standards Australia and New Zealand ruled in 2002 that hemp was safe for human consumption, but that ruling was overturned by state and federal health ministers. The health ministers were concerned hemp could be confused with cannabis.

BRANDT TEALE: The strange thing for Australia is that the Food Standards Australia and New Zealand allows New Zealand to produce hemp food for consumption and we're not allowed to do it in Australia. It is really holding back the industry; it's really holding back jobs.

JACQUELINE STREET: Phil Warner operates a hemp production business in Queensland, New South Wales and Tasmania and is part of a new application before Food Standards to repeal the ban on hemp foods.

PHIL WARNER: Everybody knows there's a significant difference between marijuana and hemp; it's just very lazy politicking and they couldn't be bothered; there's not a big enough lobby out there from an industrial hemp perspective to be able to do anything about it. You know, there's not enough votes in it.

JACQUELINE STREET: Food Standards will put the idea out for public comment next April with a final decision due in July


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