The Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation, chaired by the Australian assistant health minister, Fiona Nash, considered a range of regulatory matters, including an update on the health star rating system of labelling and a review of a proposal to allow low-THC hemp as a food.
While the ministers declared themselves pleased with government initiatives to encourage star labelling, which was launched late last year, they also resolved to reject a proposal to change to regulatory standard 1.4.4. Prohibited and Restricted Plants and Fungi.
Second time rejected
The move relates to a similar meeting in December 2012, when ministers asked the antipodean food regulator, Fsanz, to review a decision made by the watchdog to make draft changes to the regulatory food code after they received an application to consider allowing foods derived from hemp seeds that are naturally low in THC—tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive compound found in marijuana.
Fsanz has since reviewed its decision and re-affirmed its support for a change to the code. Notwithstanding, the forum once again knocked back the proposal, although it did note that “Fsanz found that foods derived from the seeds of low-THC hemp do not present any safety concerns as food”.
Other concerns, including law enforcement issues, particularly from a policing perspective in relation to roadside drug testing, and levels of cannabidiol (CBD, or hemp’s non-psychoactive compound, which is being researched widely as a treatment for mental health issues), were tabled by some of the ministers.
It was also suggested that the marketing of hemp in food might “send a confused message to consumers about the acceptability and safety of cannabis”.
Eventually, the forum agreed that further work would be undertaken to look at law enforcement, roadside drug testing and marketing concerns in consultation with relevant Ministers.
Industry considers legal action
The decision to put the regulatory application on ice once again did not go down well with Paul Benhaim, chief executive of Hempfoods Australia, the largest nutritional hemp manufacturer in the southern hemisphere.
In a brief statement Benhaim said: “The forum met in Auckland after years of delay and followed reports by [Fsanz] to consider if hemp foods are safe for human consumption in Australia and New Zealand. [Hemp foods] are legal in the rest of the world. We are considering our response.”
However, he did say that no other countries have law enforcement issues of the nature that concerned the ministers; neither do other countries have an issue regarding potentially confusing messages to consumers.
“This is the reason they used last time. Maybe the only response we can choose is a legal one,” Benhaim added.