ECONOMIC BOOSTER: Tiffani Brennan, business development manager and Paul Benhaim CEO of Hemp Foods Australia.
ECONOMIC BOOSTER: Tiffani Brennan, business development manager and Paul Benhaim CEO of Hemp Foods Australia. Doug Eaton

Local company can sell hemp food across world - but not here

A LOCAL hemp food company's products are sold all over the world, but don't try to eat them here in Australia - it's still against the law.

Bangalow-based Hemp Foods Australia, which started in 1999, manufactures a range of supplements for the health foods sector such as hulled hemp seeds, seed oil, and protein powder.

In 2011 it opened a small production facility and has expanded to larger premises twice since - tripling its size last financial year - and now employs seven full-time staff and 30 contractors.

Hemp is not marijuana - there are no psycho-active products whatsoever

- Hemp Foods Australia founder Paul Benhaim

The company has a promising future, but founder Paul Benhaim warns he may have to move the business overseas if the government does not make sensible changes to the law soon.

Ironically, growing industrial hemp is legal, but digesting the crop is not.

"Hemp is not marijuana - there are no psycho-active products whatsoever," the hemp expert, who founded the company after learning of the unique nutritional value of hemp seeds, said.

"In the rest of the world they have hemp milk, hemp pasta, hemp sauces, hemp bread - it's just considered a regular grain."

The company is now pinning its hopes on a long-awaited government review to legalise hemp foods.

The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) will meet in June to decide on whether to endorse a recommendation into law by Food Standards Australia and New Zealand that allows hemp foods to be approved as a food in Australia

The hemp industry has the potential to become a "billion dollar industry" in Australia, said Mr Benhaim, but only if the government got behind it.

"Right now we're bringing $13 million of trade to the Australian economy," he said.

"We have investors wanting to literally throw millions of dollars at this industry, but they're very scared of the legal environment."

Seeds are currently sourced from Victoria and overseas but a variety suitable for the Northern Rivers could be grown locally.

"But the bottom line is if we can't continue to grow in Australia then it makes more sense to take our business overseas, basically taking everything the government says they want - jobs, environmental support - away."

Mr Benhaim said hemp is one of the most versatile and eco-friendly substances on our planet.

"The fibre is extremely strong, and the seed is one of the most nutritional compounds known to man."

"It has the perfect balance of omega 3 and omega 6 oils; it also contains 33% digestible protein, and the quality of the protein is incredible."

"The potential for it as a food is huge."

Last week the company sent an invitation to Prime Minister Tony Abbott to tour the facility on the advice of Richmond MP Justine Elliott, after she dropped in to discuss the review. Mr Benhaim also urged people to contact their local members about the situation.

HEMP food benefits

High in omega 3, 6, and 9 essential oils, in the right proportions.

33% protein in the seed, more than 50% protein in powder form

Contains all the amino acids which make up a complete protein, Highly digestible.

Plant-based protein; less energy intensive than meat-based proteins.

Environmental benefits

A guaranteed sustainable source - for food and also fibre for building.

Stalks from the hemp plants are used by the building industry to make hemp houses, which locks in carbon dioxide.

It matures in just 100 days, with the leaves turned back into the soil to maintain soil health for the next crop.

legal history

Was outlawed in the 1960s in the US and Australia at the same time as marijuana, pushed by Randolph Hearst's media empire and corporate giant DuPont.

The law made no exceptions for non-drug form of cannabis sativa.

Where the US has since made legal changes, Australia hasn't. In the US, the hemp business is now worth half a billion dollars.

Paul Benhaim has been involved with industrial hemp for 18 years, and is one of Australia's few experts.

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