New Health Minister primed on hemp seed

To the Hon Tanya Plibersek
Minister for Health

Congratulations on your appointment to the important Health portfolio. I write to request information concerning your Department’s policy regarding FSANZ application A1039 to have hemp seed and hemp seed products normalized as a human food in Australia. I am the author of that application. This application was made hoping to provide a very palatable and rich source of omega 3 and other important nutrients for Australian’s young and old and to add a valuable new crop to Australian agriculture. The executive summary produced by FSANZ has substantiated our assertions that hemp seed is a safe and nutritious food.

Government data indicate up to 90% of Australian school children are currently receiving less than an ideal quantity of omega 3. Deficiency of this essential nutrient will compromise the development of the young brain and mind, as well as setting the stage for a raft of serious inflammatory and degenerative conditions in later life. The future health costs of this hidden epidemic could be too large to be calculated.

At last aware that our plundering of the oceans has left marine omega 3 unable to fill the future needs of the population, the federal government recently allocated many millions of dollars to the CSIRO and a private gentec company, in an attempt to genetically modify canola, to express additional omega 3. Genetic modification of food crops is not widely accepted by the Australian public and we deplore this misguided and profligate waste of public money, especially when an ecologically sustainable, completely natural source of omega 3 is ready and waiting.

The benefits of using hemp seed as a food source are apparent in many aspects of an industrial hemp crop. Industrial hemp is a self mulching weed smother crop. Its long tap root aerates the soil while repelling nematodes. Crops following hemp have demonstrated greater than 20% increased yield in Australian field tests. Hemp crops are generally grown without herbicides or pesticides and the crop therefore pays the farmer well, compared to high input crops. After seed harvest there remains a variable quantity of stalk, comprising over 70% cellulose. With appropriate milling these hemp chips, or hurd, can be made into hempcrete, a novel building material which is non-toxic, fireproof and termite proof. Hempcrete houses are totally free of volatile organic compounds. In England hempcrete houses are being used by councils to create affordable, quality public housing. Each ton of hemp cellulose removes over one and half tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. So hemp seed is not only a nutritional powerhouse, but also the only demonstrably carbon neutral food available. We believe that hemp seed can and should provide a uniquely valuable component in the human diet, from infants to geriatrics and that the population would benefit from such a strategy.

You will be aware that Australia is the only country on Earth to restrict the food uses of hemp seed. A lawyer from the Department of Health, Chris Reid, authored a submission to FSANZ, claiming that to alter the code would put us in conflict with our international treaty obligations. He was unable to grasp the inherent contradiction of his opinion, even when reminded repeatedly that we are the ONLY country on Earth yet to change the code.
He was unable to suggest what action should be taken against the rest of the world for breaching their treaty obligations! Based on this submission the Department expressed its opposition to changing code 1.4.4

With a new Minister, we can only hope that better minds than this can be called on for rational policy advice on important public health issues and we question whether public money should be squandered paying salaries for such opinion. For your interest application A360, the first attempt to change the code in 2002, was approved by FSANZ, but subsequently rejected by the then ministerial council, particularly the then Health Minister Abbott, using uninformed slogans in the place of clearly articulated scientific evidence. We are grateful that parliament has seen fit to improve the system of accountability in decision making by such bodies as FOFR, so that we may operate with a system more based on rational inquiry and scholarship, when it comes to important decisions regarding the nation’s food.

Changes to the code require the agreement of FOFR and state and federal health ministers comprise many of the positions on that forum. I would like to know whether, after further consideration, your department would care to modify its opinion and use the second round of FSANZ submissions, closing on the 15th February, to express a revised opinion. For your interest I have enclosed a small sample of hulled hemp seed.

Thank you for your consideration of this important issue.


Dr Andrew Katelaris MD
6th February, 2012

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