Hemp seeds.... widely available online. Photo: Thinkstock
A senior public servant’s nine-month court battle highlights the need for Australian regulators to allow hemp seed to be sold and consumed as a food source, advocates say.
Last week drug-driving proceedings were dismissed against a 37-year-old Canberra woman in the ACT Magistrates Court after she tested positive to a very low level of THC, the chemical that gives marijuana its psychological effects.
The woman told police she hadn't smoked cannabis for 15 years and evidence later emerged that her husband had included hemp seeds in a homemade gluten-free muesli.
The latest application to regulator Food Standards Australia New Zealand for hemp to be allowed as food stuff is set to be considered next year.
Popular in muesli bars, breakfast cereals and even ice cream in countries including the US, Canada and across Europe, hemp seed remains banned for consumption in Australia.
Dieticians promote hemp seed in a range of foods including health products, salad oils, tofu, and non-dairy cheeses and as an additive to other products.
The product is widely available online.
New South Wales Industrial Hemp Association vice president James Vosper said the banned seeds serve as an effective source of protein, vitamins and minerals, including omega-3 fatty acids.
‘‘There is a false link [with marijuana] that people make in their own minds,” Mr Vosper said.
“Something like 200 strains of the plant Cannabis sativa exist and only a few, a handful, have any psychoactive properties.
A guide produced by the regulator says hemp is currently used in Australia as a source of clothing and building products.
The Australian government blocked a previous application for hemp foods to be permitted because a change ‘‘may send a confused message to consumers about the acceptability and safety of illicit cannabis and pose problems for drug enforcement agencies’’.
Mr Vosper said the ban was out-dated and not supported by scientific evidence.
“It’s a bit similar to banning mushrooms because there are some mushrooms which will cause a psychoactive effect.”
He said the current hemp application was one of the longest running proposals in the history of Food Standards Australia New Zealand and next year’s outcome was uncertain.
‘‘In the past it has been safe and the social proof from overseas is that it is allowed in the UK, Canada, France and any of our major trading partners but the anomaly is Australia,” Mr Vosper said.
‘‘Australian farmers are also losing out because of the ban. This is a crop they could grow, which is great for the environment, produces great fibre and all the other things and is a great source of food.”
“By not allowing it, we are really hindering our own farmers from developing and growing a brand new crop and industry."
The recent case attracted criticism from lawyers and civil liberties campaigners in the ACT, but Attorney-General Simon Corbell said the government was not currently considering a review to the zero-tolerance approach to drug-driving.