Two decades ago, Paul Benhaim began farming a crop and value-adding it into products he could export, but which had very tight sale restrictions in Australia.
That is until this year, when law changes meant hemp seeds could be sold for human consumption.
It’s a day Benhaim has been waiting and planning for a long time.
Originally from England, Benhaim came across hemp as a uni student in Canada in 1991 – but it was in the lecture room rather than an ‘after-hours’ capacity.
“I studied food and nutrition with a specialist in essential fatty acids such as omega-3, omega-6 and so on,” he said.
“One of my mentors was Dr Udo Erasmus, a fats and oil specialist. His work in hemp foods showed they contain the perfect balance of these essential fatty acids [EFAs] for long-term human use. Now this was 1991, where it wasn’t widely known that EFAs were really important for humans, whereas now that’s far better understood.
“I said to Dr Erasmus: ‘That’s fantastic, why aren’t you promoting hemp if this is the best plant-based source of these EFAs known to man?’. He said it was because people still thought hemp was a drug.
“So that was my inspiration, to say: ‘Does hemp contain any drugs? Is it going to get you intoxicated in any way?’. We later proved in many studies – and many others did as well – that hemp does not get people high.
“From there, that was my mission – and has been since – in educating people that hemp is not a drug – it’s actually a tasty, healthy food that contains EFAs and protein. After educating them, I wanted to provide high-quality hemp seeds to as many people as possible.”
While Benhaim established Hemp Foods Australia in 1999, trade was minimal until 2012.
“Now we’re really on the cusp of growing, so we expect in the next few years to grow even more, and with the legislative changes, we’re expecting to focus on the Australian market.”