Is focus on marijuana overshadowing the benefits of hemp?
Phil Lempert, Editor
Originally published in the free, weekly e-newsletter, Facts, Figures & the Future.
The question I have is how all of the attention being given to legalizing marijuana can help (and not over shadow) its more nutritious cousin, hemp, to finally become a mainstream crop here in the United States. Twenty-two states have actually legalized industrial hemp farming as per Sec. 7606 of the Farm Bill. And the Industrial Hemp Farming Act introduced in both the House and the Senate in January of this year is encouraging more farmers to grow this very sustainable crop. In a climate that many, including myself, view as under siege, hemp restores nutrients to the soil via phytoremediation and does not require chemical pesticides or herbicides. In fact, George Washington grew hemp crops, as did Thomas Jefferson and John Adams on their lands.
While our forefathers grew it for use in rope, canvas, fabric and paper, today hemp is even a more important ingredient in our move to consume more nutritious foods. Hemp seeds are a rich source of Omega-3 and 6 fatty acids and other polyunsaturated fatty acids. Hemp actually has almost as much protein as soybeans. it is rich in Vitamin E along with a cadre of other beneficial minerals and has proven beneficial effects on our cardiovascular health. Which is why, in full disclosure, I became an advocate and supporter (unpaid) of Hemp History Week when it first launched in 2009.
Foods that contain hemp, many of which are imported from Canada where it is legal to grow industrial hemp, range from milks, tofu, yogurt, snack bars, granola, waffles, pancake mix, oatmeal, protein powder, oil, shakes as well as being sold as seeds that you can sprinkle on just about any food. In 2014, The Hemp Industry Association estimates that sales of hemp food and body care products topped $620 million and increased over 21% from the previous year.
For hemp foods to reach their potential, it is important to discuss and separate the controversy over these two plants. It is true that both come from the same plant Cannabis sativa L. The important difference to note is that industrial hemp contains only less than 0.3% of Tetrahydrocannabinoids or THC (the ingredients that make a person high), while marijuana's THC content can be 5-10% or more.
Expect to see a lot more headlines and discussion about legalizing marijuana especially as the presidential campaigns gear up. It will be important for all of us to separate these two very different crops and not lose what could be one of agriculture's most important and nutritious crops to misunderstanding and politics. Hemp History Week is June 1-7, and over 1,100 events throughout our country will encourage better understanding by our legislators and shoppers.