Hemp or industrial hemp is a cannabis plant species (Cannabis sativa). Historically, hemp has been used as a source of fibre and oil. Hemp seeds and oil are used in other countries, including in Europe, Canada and the United States of America, in a range of foods. Hemp seeds contain protein, vitamins, minerals and polyunsaturated fatty acids, particularly omega-3 fatty acids.
Cannabis extracts have also been used in medicine for a variety of ailments. However hemp does not have therapeutic effects because it has low levels of cannabidiol, the active component of cannabis extracts used for medicinal purposes.
Hemp is different to other varieties of C. sativa which are commonly referred to as marijuana as it contains no, or very low levels of THC (delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol), the cannabinoid associated with the psychoactive properties of marijuana.
Hemp is cultivated worldwide, including in Australia and New Zealand (under strict licensing arrangements) and is currently used in Australia and New Zealand as a source of fibre for clothing and building products.
Can hemp be used in food in Australia and New Zealand?
At present, the seeds or any other part of the hemp plant cannot be used as foods or as an ingredient in foods in Australia and New Zealand as it is prohibited by the Food Standards Code. However, hemp seed oil has been permitted for sale as a food in New Zealand since 2002 under the New Zealand Food (Safety) Regulations 2002.
Applications to permit foods derived from hemp
Ministers were concerned that the availability of hemp seed foods may send a confused message to consumers about the acceptability and safety of illicit cannabis and pose problems for drug enforcement agencies.
In January 2015, when the Forum formally rejected the second application ministers asked the Food Regulation Standing Committee (FRSC) to do further work to consider enforcement, roadside drug testing and hemp marketing issues. In March 2016 ministers noted the final FRSC reports on these issues. They also noted that the results of a study into the effects on roadside drug testing would be critical to considering whether to permit the sale of low-THC hemp seed foods. In October 2016 ministers were advised the final report evaluating the impact of the consumption of low-THC hemp as a food on random drug testing protocols would be completed in early 2017.
Current proposal to permit foods derived from hemp
In March 2016 ministers asked FSANZ to prepare a proposal on how, if it was considered appropriate, low-THC hemp could legally be designated as a food. FSANZ was asked to consider the findings of the completed research projects noted above and policy advice on the marketing and advertising of low-THC hemp seed foods. FSANZ has prepared Proposal P1042 and a call for submissions was released in late July 2016.
If approved by FSANZ the Forum will consider this Proposal at their meeting in April 2017 when the results of the study on the effects on roadside drug testing will also be available. Within 60 days of being notified Ministers can inform FSANZ they do not intend to ask FSANZ to review its decision or ask FSANZ to review its decision.