Statement made on 17 November 2009 by Senator Lorna Milne (retired)
Hon. Lorna Milne:
Honourable senators, I want to take this opportunity to bring you all up to date on an industry that has been close to my heart almost since the beginning of my tenure in this place — the industrial hemp industry in Canada.
Many of you have listened to me speak passionately about the development of this industry before, while some of our new colleagues may be learning of the existence of the hemp industry in Canada for the very first time. This story will let them know what a brand new backbench senator can do, if you want to do it.
Lesson No. 1: Policies are never perfect when they spring from the cabinet table; and No. 2, bills still are not perfect after the bureaucrats have written them.
I was given the job of sponsoring in the Senate a bill that amended the Food and Drugs Act. By the time that bill reached the Senate, there was a long list of government amendments that had to be made to the bill. After hearing compelling evidence in committee about the non-narcotic nature of hemp and its potential value as an agricultural crop, I had the bureaucrats over a barrel. I gladly agreed to move their amendments if they added one more — to legalize the growing of hemp — and it worked.
To go back, when I arrived in the Senate in 1995, Health Canada was allowing the limited production of hemp for scientific research purposes through the use of research permits, following a system that had been set in place in 1961. The growing of industrial hemp was prohibited in this country from 1938 until 1961, except during the Second World War, when they really needed it.
By 1995, however, a grassroots movement had begun with the objective of demonstrating that a crop of industrial hemp — that is non-narcotic hemp — could be grown specifically for commercial purposes. The historic stigma surrounding hemp production is largely due to its appearance. Because it has a similar leaf shape, hemp is frequently confused with marijuana.
The major difference, of course, is their tetrahydrocannabinol, THC, content. That is what makes you high when you smoke marijuana. A marijuana plant can contain as much as 20 per cent THC, but an industrial hemp plant contains far less than 1 per cent. You can smoke a whole field of it and all you will get is a headache.
In 1997, Health Canada gathered together a group of expert representatives from other government departments with stakeholder interests in the development of regulations for the commercial production of hemp. The act was amended later that year, and after much promulgating and actually threatening to call the minister up before the National Finance Committee to explain the delay, regulations were finally produced in mid-March of 1998, with the first licences for commercial purposes being issued by June of that year, just exactly too late for the 1998 growing season.
This year, 2009, is the tenth year of growing hemp in Canada. According to the latest statistics of Agri-Food Canada, the exports of hemp fibre, seed and oil have grown exponentially, reaching a total of $3.5 million in 2007.
Somewhat to my astonishment, hemp seed and hemp oil are the most popular products of the plant, while I had originally thought it was strictly a fibre crop. Hemp oil pressed from the seed of the plant is nutritious because it contains the essential fatty acids of omega 3 and omega 6, as well as amino acids and anti-oxidants.
It can be used as cooking oil, in salad dressings, spreads and dips.
Research is ongoing, but hemp seed oil has potential health benefits for diabetes, cancer, lupus, asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, depression and hypertension. They say it is the plant of a thousand uses. Another fast-growing area of research is the role of essential fatty acids in growth and development, as well as in treating diseases like coronary heart disease.
The fibre is also increasingly finding a market. A number of automobile producers are using hemp to help improve their image. In an effort to be perceived as green, well-known European companies such as Mercedes-Benz and BMW are using hemp for interior components, including door panels and dashboards. Some manufacturers in the American industry are following the European example and have started to use hemp to make stronger, lighter and less expensive composite panels.
In Europe, there is a continued demand for industrial hemp fibre. For instance, in the United Kingdom, hemp fibre is used to produce construction materials, such as insulation and particle board. In addition, the strength of hemp fibres makes them ideal for use in high-end paper applications where durability is an advantage. Paper applications are by far the largest market for hemp fibres in Europe.
In the Middle East, the United Nations Development Programme and the Government of Lebanon have joined forces to initiate the transformation of soils currently used to produce hashish in the Bekaa Valley into industrial hemp production. This Bekaa Valley project has been well-received by producers looking to make the change to produce a legal crop. This is an example of Canadian hemp production expertise being exported and implemented in another market.
As Canada continues to develop this industry, we are becoming a leader in genetics behind industrial hemp production. We are finding opportunities to benefit from our expertise by exporting this knowledge.
The body care product is another growth factor for hemp seed oil. To many, the essential fatty acid content of hemp oil makes it ideal as an ingredient in both "leave on" and "rinse off" topical body care products. Hemp oil helps soothe and restore skin in lotions and creams. It acts as an emollient and provides a smooth after-feel to lotions and lip balms, conditioners, shampoos, soaps and shaving products. If anyone wants to try it, I have some hemp hand cream in my office.
With cosmetic companies taking advantage of the moisture retention qualities of hemp oils, the uses and marketability of industrial hemp oil have great potential to increase. Growing consumer awareness and product availability will also help expand the market.
Early last year, the Ontario Hemp Alliance advised me that they would be initiating a Canadian hemp industry review project. This was a proactive initiative on the part of the producers, processers and other industry stakeholders with a view to providing Health Canada with an industry perspective on the application and administration of the present regulations. Hopefully, it will provide Health Canada with a firm base upon which to complete the department's original objective to review these regulations.
The review was conducted over a four-month period last year with the hope of bringing attention to the role of industrial hemp as a valuable new crop for Canada. It also provided an opportunity to draw producers and processers from across the country together in a cooperative and collective working group with the objective to advance further the potential growth of Canadian hemp crops.
Stakeholders identified a number of issues during these meetings. They included the need to include one or two hemp industry representatives on the advisory committee to Health Canada responsible for evaluation of the cultivars. There were also concerns raised about the cost of THC sampling and testing in the production process. There is a need to review the current protocols since the cost of multiple testing is very high. It is almost prohibitive for farmers. All varieties currently permitted for use in Canada produce very low levels of THC.
Finally, it was recommended that production licences be extended for up to five years with provision for annual amendments. Currently, a licence to produce industrial hemp is issued for only one calendar year at a time. This is a real problem for our farmers.
Health Canada has approved the production of 27 different varieties of industrial hemp cultivars in Canada. These varieties have been developed in Canada.
Manitoba is the largest producer and processing province of industrial hemp. It grows there over a wide variety of climate and soil types, making it ideal for areas of the province where crops with longer growing seasons, such as beans, corn and sunflower, cannot be grown. In Manitoba, producers have traditionally concentrated on the production of hemp grain to convert to oil or powder. Existing Manitoba grain processors include Hemp Oil Canada in Ste. Agathe and Manitoba Harvest in Winnipeg. Manitoba is also home to hemp fibre production thanks to the Emerson Hemp Distribution Company that processes raw hemp fibre into its components of hurd and bast fibres, that is, short and long fibres.
Parkland Industrial Hemp Growers Coop in Dauphin is providing the fundamentals for a fibre processing facility, Parkland BioFibre. The Manitoba government pledged $4 million in loans and grants to this project last December. In the past, this project has been given financial support from Sustainable Development Technology Canada.
Saskatchewan is also home to a vibrant and growing hemp industry. It is at the centre of some valuable research being done by Satya Panigrahi at the University of Saskatchewan. Professor Panigrahi is a University of Saskatchewan's Saskatchewan Agricultural and Food Research Chair in Agriculture Material Utilization and Bioprocess Engineering. He is studying hemp's future as a viable industrial crop that can be used to produce green products. To make his point, the engineer near has spent the last four years investigating how hemp fibre can be mixed with other materials and moulded into environmentally-friendly products.
He has already used hemp and recycled materials to create a plastic replacement called hempstic, a fibreglass alternative to make auto body parts and shingles that combine hemp, flax, recycled rubber; and Eco-Bricks. An Eco-Brick is a bio-composite building block made with 75 per cent hemp stock fibre, combined with flax and recycled plastic from milk jugs, juice cartons and anything else made of plastic. This is collected at Saskatchewan recycling outlets. They are a stackable, fire and mould resistant construction material that can be nailed, sawn and treated exactly like a wooden board. Stucco can be applied to the bricks and they have an insulation value of up to R50. This is much higher than the R10 to R23 insulation used in most houses. They are priced at about 30 per cent to 50 per cent less than wood for a house.
In Ontario, the recent news in the hemp industry continues to focus on the production and processing of hemp fibre. Recently, three foreign investors pledged more than $2 million to join Stonehedge Bio-Resources to build a processing facility located in Stirling, halfway between Ottawa and Toronto. That is currently underway. This facility will process hemp into building and insulation materials. It will also produce a pelleted fuel from the end by-product of its decortication process.
In addition, hemp research is ongoing at the University of Guelph as part of a larger project dedicated to producing various materials from waste products and inexpensive plant material using nanotechnology. The Bioproducts Discovery and Development Centre of Excellence, which I told the Senate about back in the spring, has developed nano-engineered bio-plastics formed entirely from plant materials suitable for making lightweight car parts that are stronger than steel. In fact, bio-materials, such as soy oil and corn or hemp stocks, can be used to produce everything for which we presently use traditional plastics. Everything from building panels, carpets, furniture and packaging materials to lubricants and paints can be made from natural products, including hemp.
Honourable senators, I have noted before that investing in research such as this is essential to learning how to lower our dependence on non-renewable resources and to building a better future for us all. The Government of Canada has shown their interest, and I congratulate them in this research, by investing in the hemp and flax industry so that farmers can harness new opportunities and access new value-added markets. In March, the government announced a $9.6 million investment in the Natural Fibres for the Green Economy Network. This is a multidisciplinary network that brings together Canada's top researchers, industry and producers to help create additional profitable natural fibre-based industrial value chains by improving varieties, technologies and processes and by improving products made out of natural fibres. In addition, last November the Province of Manitoba and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada unveiled a new national strategy for developing the hemp industry in Canada. Many industry watchers say the creation of a national strategy gives the industry instant credibility. With all of this activity in the industrial hemp industry, it is no wonder that Canadian stakeholders are as optimistic as ever that hemp will continue its penetration into mainstream markets.
In the 10 years since hemp was legalized, I have seen a tremendous amount of work done to promote and develop the Canadian industrial hemp industry. I take this opportunity to thank all the people who have spent so much time and so much of their efforts in promoting it. I encourage honourable senators to support initiatives in their regions that will further develop the production of hemp. After 10 years, Canada has become a global player in the genetics behind hemp production continues to export that knowledge to our competitive advantage.
In closing, it is clear that the success story behind industrial hemp can be used as a model to address the question of how Canadians develop economic opportunities while addressing a number of issues related to maintaining a sustainable environment.