A Canadian company called Ruth’s Hemp Foods last Monday became the first to introduce a hemp based cereal product on the US market. Hemp, a variety of the cannabis plant, is somewhat controversial in the US, but the lobby to get the plant legalized has booked several successes recently. Not least because hemp is believed to be a godsent in the battle against global warming.
The new cereal product sold in US retail stores is called Chia Goodness after the hemp nutrient, a seed which was particularly popular in the 1970s. Hemp is the non narcotic version of the cannabis plant. It contains virtually no psycho active ingredients that gets you high, but the association with the cannabis plant is enough for many countries including the US to outlaw the plant.
The US food market alone annually imports over USD12 million worth of hemp based products and the lobby to get hemp legalized in the US is set to grow stronger in years to come because hemp is not only about the most nutricious plant around, it’s also likely to gain attention due to the battle against greenhouse gas. Environmentalists also argue hemp can be used to combat deforestated areas and in the looming food crisis.
Take in these facts; hemp scrubs the atmosphere of more carbon dioxide than any other plant because it has the highest known quantities of cellulose for annuals. Hemp has at least four times (some sources suggest 50-100x) the biomass potential of similar plants (cornstalks, sugarcane, kernaf and trees). It grows at a phenomenal speed, so is an excellent solution to the deforestated areas of the Amazon and Asia. The carbon dioxide that hemp absorbs is turned into incredibly rich wood and massively strong fibers.
There’s also attention for hemp from scientists worried about the looming food crisis. Only one acre of hemp creates 1,000 gallons of methanol, which is an astounding amount. Henry Ford ran the first car fuelled by hemp seed. Hemp is now known to be suitable for creating various substitutes for coal based products, acetone, ethyl, tar pitch and creosote.
The US market for hemp based food and healthcare products is vibrant and it’s mostly the Canadians and Europeans that are happy with this. Canada legalized the growth of hemp in 1998 and the owner of Ruth’s Hemp Foods, Ruth Shamai, was an active part of the lobby there. Canadian production of hemp increased from 4,000 acres in 2002 to over 24,000 acres in 2005. Farmers have fun cultivating the crop because it has a high market value and the plant does not need herbicides or pesticides. According to a report in an Australian newspaper the US healthcare market was $30 million in 2004. In Europe demand from the housing sector is massive too and this set to grow in the US too. Hemp plants can be ground up and made into bricks. These have better insulating qualities than traditional bricks.
The US lobby to get hemp legalized is particularly strong in North Dakota, Wisconsin, Oregon and Vermont. Some farms in North Dakota were issued individual licenses early last year to become the first US farms grow industrial hemp. And in Vermont, earlier this month a bill was passed 25 votes to one which legalizes hemp. Yet the farmers are still faced with massive risks because at federal level there’s a long way to go before all is okay. The first step toward fully reinstating hemp as an industrial crop was taken last year when congress amended the controlled substances act. Now industrial hemp is no longer included in the definition of marijuana. The state of Oregon also has a powerful lobby in favor of hemp. Check out the Cannabis Tax Act, the Campaign for the Restoration and Regulation of Hemp, and Vote Hemp to find out more information about the US lobby.
Globally, hemp is grown in China, Germany, the Netherlands, the UK, Australia and New Zealand among others.