The US hemp industry is under threat from regulators who are set to act against the versatile material on the grounds it contains traces of a psychoactive substance. The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) proposal will ban all products containing delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which would mean most hemp products even though hemp contains only non-active traces of THC.
Burgeoning world-wide hemp markets haven't convinced US authorities of the material's potential worth, and US manufacturers have to source hemp seeds from elsewhere in order to comply with a conservative regulatory regime intent on snuffing out a $140 million industry.
"The US is an island of denial amid a widespread sea of acceptance," said David Bronner, board member of the US Hemp Industries Association. "In the EU, Asia, eastern Europe and Canada, they all have straightforward regulatory regimes. The market here right now, which is the world's largest, is one-tenth the size it should be. Major corporate buyers and food companies are all steering clear until the regulatory situation clears up."
Elsewhere, the hemp industry is booming. In Canada, the four-year old industry is experiencing double-digit growth, while in Germany 100,000 hectares are being planted to supply the automobile industry with a better fibreglass alternative.
Canadian Hemp Food
product manufacturer Greg Harriott, of Hempola Inc, says sales are up 60 per cent over 2002 but the DEA action has "set up a significant fear factor which has hampered sales."
A US District Court of Appeals in San Francisco has issued a stay of the DEA rule, and is expected to issue a final ruling next year. Hemp food manufacturers are optimistic the court will issue in their favour, pointing out that poppy seeds contain similar quantities of opium.
Hemp has found its way into foods as diverse as bread, ice cream, coffee and personal care products.