Hemp foods are now legal for human consumption in Australia, since the FSANZ (Food Standards Australia New Zealand) submissions were approved by the Federal Government in April 2017. Full legalisation came into force in November 2017. This is a landmark for the industry as hemp foods can be profitably grown on smaller size holdings. The benefits of hemp foods (seed, oil, flour and protein) are that they are contain Omega 3 and 6 in the correct ratio for human consumption. Hemp foods are high in protein (20%-30%) and essential vitamins and minerals. We are now seeing hemp foods in major supermarkets and stores across Australia.
Australia has a perfect climate for hemp grain crops. The expansion of food production and processing has economic and social benefits for rural Australia. This relates to products marketed in Australia and for export.
Hemp fibre is obtained by separating the outer skin (bast) from the woody hemp hurd. This was traditionally done in the field through a process known as “retting”. Advances have been made and this is now achievable through decortication of material directly at harvest. This improves the fibre quality is faster and cuts down on wastage.
Hemp fibre has a number of important uses, most commonly in clothing and accessories. Hemp clothing is hardwearing and has natural antiseptic qualities. Hemp is finding increased favour in the fashion industry. Fully manufactured Australian hemp clothing will require a significant investment in infrastructure and machinery. Hemp fibre is also used in making canvas, ropes, twines, matting and insulation.
Hemp hurds, also known as shives or hemp wood, are a product from the inner woody core of the hemp stalk. Once separated from hemp fibre the hurd is broken into pieces, where the grade depends on the purpose for which the hurd is used.
Hurd can be used as stock in paper-making and in particleboard for building and insulation. Hemp hurd is also used for bedding for animals, most notably horses.
Hemp hurd provides the base material in making hempcrete. When mixed with a binder the hurd can be used to create hempcrete in the form of bricks or poured into formwork. Over time this cures to become a material that is hard, fire and pest resistant. It also continues to absorb CO2 as it undergoes “carbonisation”.
Whilst the AIHA was formed in 2015 primarily to facilitate the development of the hemp fibre and hemp seed food industries in Australia, when the Alliance was established there was also a commitment made to ensure that as and if needed, the Alliance would support the development of an ethical medicinal cannabis industry in Australia.
Medicinal hemp can be manufactured from industrial hemp (def: <1% THC) where cannabidiol (CBD) and other cannabinoids are extracted from hemp leaves, flowers and stalks. In 2016 the Office of Drug Control (a department of the Therapeutic Goods Administration) made a series of presentations to interested parties. The model addressed only the projected needs of the domestic market. In January 2018 the TGA agreed to allow exports. This has bolstered the market and lifted the valuations of stocks listed on the ASX.
There are many other areas where hemp can be used. Hemp is a valuable source of biofuels. Hemp can also be used in biocomposite materials to replace plastics in applications as diverse as automotive panels and surfboards. There is also research underway to replace graphene in industrial batteries with hemp filaments.
Hemp absorbs more CO2 than any other, broadacre, crop and draws heavy metals from soils. It is therefore a great means of sequestering carbon and rehabilitating derelict land. This also means that crops for food and medicine need to be grown in soils that are not contaminated and in areas of low pollution. This is an advantage that Australia has over countries with less stringent environmental regulations. Due to hemp’s capacity to absorb CO2 hemp growers and manufacturers can be largely carbon neutral.