BLOWING IN THE WIND: Hemp Foods Australia CEO Paul Benhaim says his business is losing millions of dollars while ministers deliberate over permitting low THC hemp as a food in Australia and New Zealand.
BLOWING IN THE WIND: Hemp Foods Australia CEO Paul Benhaim says his business is losing millions of dollars while ministers deliberate over permitting low THC hemp as a food in Australia and New Zealand. Marc Stapelberg

Roadside drug testing hits Northern Rivers food industry

SENSITIVE roadside drug testing was identified as the primary roadblock to a potential multi-million dollar hemp food industry in the Northern Rivers, when the Australian and New Zealand ministers responsible for food regulation met by teleconference last Thursday.

In order to open up the lucrative multi-million market for low THC hemp food - illegal only in Australia and New Zealand - the forum requested that the Food Regulation Standing Committee prioritise an investigation into roadside drug tests.

Last week's special meeting of the Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation chaired by the Australian Government Minister for Rural Health, Senator Fiona Nash, considered the latest report from the Food Regulation Standing Committee on the research projects under way in relation to low THC hemp.

Forum members noted an update on the project was investigating whether the consumption of low THC hemp as a food could result in a false positive in any of the roadside drug testing programs currently in use in Australia and New Zealand.

This study is critical to considering whether to permit low THC hemp as a food and its outcomes will be considered at a future face-to-face meeting of the forum, most likely towards the end of the year.

But it all sounds like groundhog day for CEO of Bangalow-based Hemp Foods Australia, Paul Benhaim. His business - the largest hemp food manufacturer in the Southern Hemisphere - is literally losing millions while ministers deliberate.

"This is the third time the government has requested Food Standards to look at this issue," he said.

"The two previous times, they came to the conclusion, over many years and taxpayers' dollars, that hemp was an extremely nutritious, safe food.

"It is costing our business millions of dollars. But, more importantly, it is costing Australian farmers multi-million dollars of lost business.

"We have contracts that we are trying to sign with Australian farmers in the millions of dollars at this stage, but they are demanding why hemp isn't allowed as a food. Meanwhile our export markets are growing."

But things seem to be slowly moving in the right direction for Hemp Foods Australia.

"The forum specifically mentioned that they are moving forward because an official study into roadside drug testing was in progress, and this is a crucial part to the story," said Mr Benhaim.

"Police are concerned that people consuming hemp as a food may test positive for cannabis in roadside drug tests.

"It is believed the current roadside drug testing methods are not accurate enough to determine the difference between extremely low THC hemp as a food and high THC cannabis as a drug or medicine.

"Our company Hemp Foods Australia has a solution for roadside drug testing that is accurate and cost-effective for the Australian Police so we will soon be lobbying the government to understand why they chose to use inaccurate testing methods that no one else in the world is using."

According to Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham, who famously admitted in parliament to sprinkling hemp seed on his breakfast cereal, it is Police Minister Troy Grant providing the hemp food roadblock.

"Troy Grant is denying farmers the opportunity to grow hemp for highly lucrative food products," Mr Buckingham said.

"Although the Food Authority has recommended hemp food products be made legal, as in most other countries, Troy Grant as Police Minister is blocking it."

Senator Nash said no decision had yet been made to sell low THC hemp as a food and that these exploratory actions were designed to provide forum members with the best information in a more timely manner, so they could make a fully informed decision.