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Premier Irish Industrial Hemp Conference

The Premier Irish Industrial Hemp conference was attended by farmers, academics, government officials and business people. The event was organised by The Hemp Working Group, including Hemp organisations, Teagasc, Glasteo and IFA. It took place in Teagasc Ashtown, Dublin, on Thursday 20 June.

Barry Caslin from Teagasc who opened the proceedings said: “There has been a huge interest from farmers and industry representatives in developing a hemp industry in Ireland. Many farmers are seeking land use alternatives, especially in light of the lack of income from the drystock sector which was highlighted in the recent Teagasc National Farm Survey report. Teagasc have been involved in hemp research since the 1960’s, and proved the crop can grow well in Irish soil and climatic conditions.”

The Keynote speaker at the Premier Irish Industrial Hemp conference was Paul Benhaim from a global hemp company Elixinol. Paul has pioneered the development of many products made from hemp. He told the conference; “After realising the health properties that come from the hemp plant, I collaborated with some of the world’s leading experts that have studied the integral role that the cannabinoids and terpenes within the hemp plant play, and decided to play an active role in this industry. Elixinol now trades on the Australian stock exchange and exports to over 40 countries globally. The global barriers to hemp are coming down rapidly and Ireland is very well positioned to capitalise on this and create its own global hemp brands. The United States Congress passed the 2018 Farm Bill, Legalising Hemp. Congress federally legalised hemp with the 2018 US Farm Bill, opening a market that is expected to reach $22 billion by 2022.” 

Wicklow farmer and Irish Hemp Coop member, Ed Hanbidge spoke about how he integrated hemp into his family farm in Baltinglass. Ed has farmed organically since 2015 and he has set up a company called HempTech. He described the three main outputs from hemp as Cannabinoids used mainly to produce CBD extracts, fibre which can be used for insulation, bioplastics and biocomposite. The third use is hempseed which he supplies to Luke McGuinness from Irish Health Oils in County Meath.” The seed is harvested using conventional harvesting machinery set to the highest height. The straw fraction is then allowed to ret for a few days before being harvested and baled. Nothing goes to waste with hemp”. He called for the organic payment to be introduced for hemp crops and to provide infrastructural supports to develop the industry, either through TAMS initiatives, or Enterprise Ireland funding, to enable the processing of hemp in Ireland.

Emer O´Neill from the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) presented the current licence application process to cultivate Hemp. The number of applications received for 2019 was 77. Total area under cultivation in Ireland is 373 hectares and Finola is the seed type most commonly applied for.

Laura Jayne Foley and her Cofounder Daniel Lyons set up Canabaoil Ltd in 2018. Canabaoil ltd worked closely with a number of government agencies to develop a compliant CBD oil to sell as an Ingredient to food manufactures. Working with Dr Pat O'Mahony of the Food Safety Authority we were able to develop a method of processing CBD oil which satisfied the requirements of the novel food directive and the European Food Safety Authority.  The company cultivates hemp in County Clare under licence from the Department of Health and processes a cannabinoid rich oil which is sold as a food ingredient. Laura mentioned that the company works with 6 farmers to grow hemp for their facility in Clare. Canabaoil Ltd was a finalist in the Enterprise Ireland New Frontiers start up awards and is launching their product in September 2019. 

Kaya O’Riordan, from CB1botanicals, spoke about the opportunity of using industrial hemp to produce bioplastics. "Hemp bioplastics degrade completely within several months as opposed to conventional plastics that take several centuries to break down. With its ability to capture on average 8.9 tonnes of CO2 per acre, industrial hemp is more efficient in carbon sequestration than trees. With cellulose content of hemp fibre reaching 70%, it can be used in the variety of applications such as paper, furniture and pellets substituting wood, meaning that preservation of forests and their habitats can be accelerated by cutting less woodland. It is worth noting that the equivalent cost for 1 million tonnes of CO2 sequestration from hemp is $20 million. Whereas the Irish government has spent over €125 million on carbon credits since 2007 and Ireland is expected to miss its EU 2020 Climate Package emissions target by 95%. Industrial hemp used to produce construction materials, such as HempCrete and hemp insulation, offer further carbon sequestration and energy efficient, high-performance building solutions. Industrial hemp can, indeed, play a significant role in helping achieve goals set out by the Government's Action Plan for Rural Development."

James DeMello from deDanú worked in the Canadian cannabis and hemp industry since 2014. He and co-founder Leah Fletcher from Glasson, Athlone are offering contracts to farmers to grow hemp which will be processed at their newly acquired laboratory in Athlone into cosmetics and oils. He discussed international market trends, industry challenges, business strategy and the opportunities available to Ireland in the cultivation, processing and manufacturing of hemp. “Ireland is a gateway to Europe, has globally competitive tax rates and research incentives and a highly educated workforce. This country can compete at an international level and is uniquely positioned to capture a significant portion of the global marketplace” James stated the company’s intentions are to incubate innovation within Ireland: “deDanu is leveraging the expertise of its team and its partners to create significant opportunities and jobs in the industry while offering reliable and quality hemp products to consumers.” deDanu plans to create at least 20 jobs by 2022 and have already started contracting more farmers to cultivate hemp in 2020.

Dr Patrick Daly from Dublin Instute of Technology spoke about the importance of hemp as a building material. Hemp Lime is a  biological material or ‘bio aggregate’ with an important construction application. Using hemp in our buildings will offer environmental benefits through carbon sequestration. Hemp material properties offer dynamic behaviour through thermal - insulation and mass and also through hygroscopic - humidity and moisture buffering. It’s an innovative material which requires certain barriers and restriction to be overcome. Hemp will offer Ireland great opportunities and will require partnership and collaboration to normalise its use as a biocomposite and building material. Hemp´s predominant use is as a substitute for toxic fiberglass as a great insulation infill cast or prayed in walls, roofs and floors used in combination with a structural timber frame. Hemp achieves high performance standards for structural, fire, resistance to moisture/weathering, thermal/energy, acoustics and material workmanship.

Dr John Finnan, Senior Research Officer in the Teagasc Crops Environment and Land Use Programme, spoke about his passion for growing hemp and described it as a “vigorous crop that can generally out-compete weeds. This is particularly true of the taller varieties; however the Finola variety is slightly more vulnerable to weed competition. We have not used any herbicides, fungicides and pesticides on our research crops. As with all crops there is a nutritional requirement which can mainly be met through the application of organic manures.” John also discussed the unique machinery and challenges for harvesting, mowing and bailing.

Dr Eric Downer, assistant Professor in Human Health and Disease from Trinity College Dublin, spoke about the role of cannabinoids on the body and the therapeutic potential of cannabinoids “There is a large array of cannabinoids in the hemp plant which have a diverse effect on the human body. Therapeutic angles for cannabinoids exist. For example the endo cannabinoid system is dysregulated in Multiple Sclerosis. Irish scientists have the opportunity to develop drugs from the chemicals in the Hemp plant such as those already on the market i.e. Marinol, Cesamet and Sativex.” Eric talked about his work leading an active cannabinoid research group conducting patient-orientated research in the fields of Multiple Sclerosis and Burning Mouth Syndrome. His work is supported by ongoing Industrial and Clinical collaborations. To date he has published 41 articles and over 60 conference proceedings. He is the recipient of a Royal Academy of Medicine in Ireland Early Career Award, a Neuroscience Ireland Early Career Award and a Deans Award in recognition of his contributions to Teaching.

Dr Patrick O’Mahony, Chief Specialist- Food Science and Technology from the Food Safety Authority of Ireland described the NOVEL food Directive and how it effects the production and sale of CBD oil in Ireland. “Generally speaking, hemp oil obtained by cold-pressing the seeds or other parts of the hemp plant, does not require authorisation. A novel food is a food, or food ingredient, that was not available on the EU market to a significant degree prior to May 15, 1997. If, however, the CBD/hemp oil is subjected to certain forms of extraction or purification techniques, then a novel food authorisation may be required, as there may be an accompanying increase in undesirable constituents. A typical example is hemp oil subjected to supercritical CO2 extraction. The EU novel food Regulation has been in place for more than 20 years, while the interest in hemp and hemp products as food and food ingredients has only materialised in recent (2-3) years. Certain permitted varieties of hemp with some derived products have a history of use as, or in, food before the novel food Regulation came into effect in 1997 and therefore they do not need to be authorised for the EU market as food. However, even if a certain food is considered to be not novel, a desirable component of that food that has been extracted, purified or concentrated using non-aqueous methods (ethanol, supercritical CO2, etc.) may be considered novel and require pre-market authorisation. The reason for this is that while extracting, purifying or concentrating the desirable component, other undesirable components may also be concentrated and thereby pose a safety risk to consumers. To place a hemp extract on the EU market, a dossier of well-defined scientific information must be assembled and submitted to the EU Commission to start the authorisation process. To protect public health and prevent illegal Cannabis being cultivated among authorised hemp varieties, only land growing hemp with a tetrahydrocannabinol content not exceeding 0.2% can be used to claim farm payment (REGULATION (EU) No 1307/2013).Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the psychoactive component of Cannabis and in Ireland it is controlled through the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977 (as amended).

Presentations from the Premier Hemp Summit can be viewed at: Premier Irish Industrial Hemp Conference 2019