Ireland’s leading hemp stakeholder group has withdrawn from government talks on industrial hemp, sharply criticizing the consultations as shortsighted and disincentivizing to Irish farmers because they ignore the full potential of the plant.
“No one with any genuine knowledge or scientific understanding of this agricultural industry, both in terms of real-world economics and in terms of the unique environmental context of the crop, could possibly engage in this consultation,” Hemp Federation Ireland (HFI) Executive Director Chris Allen wrote in a letter to Brendan Gleeson, Secretary General of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM).
The letter formally announced HFI’s withdrawal from the ongoing talks, citing a “consultation framework (that) confines Irish farmers and operators to discussing only the stalk of the hemp crop.”
Irish hemp stakeholders have been in a pitched battle with the government for years over whole-plant usage. That status for hemp in Ireland is particularly critical for CBD producers whose products come from the plant’s flowers. CBD was essentially declared legal as the result of a ruling last year by the European Court of Justice (ECJ). The ruling eventually led the European Commission to declare at the end of 2020 that CBD is not a narcotic and may be considered a food.
The ECJ ruling established that EU member states may not use their domestic drugs laws to restrict the free trade in agricultural hemp and hemp-derived products across the Single Market. The court also confirmed the legal rights of EU hemp farmers and operators to use all parts of the hemp plant for end products.
“As a result of these clarifications, EU authorities support a fully integrated development of the European agricultural hemp sector based on Europe’s farmers continuing to benefit financially from all fractions of the EU crop,” HFI said in the letter.
Blocking farmers’ livelihoods
But the Irish government is blocking its farmers from those financial benefits, HFI said.
“While all of Europe is discussing this unique crop and its complex environmental potential in relation to highly monetised EU CAP (Common Agriculture Policy), Farm to Fork (strategy) and climate policy objectives, Irish farmers are supposed to talk about the stalk; that’s just ridiculous,” Allen said in a press statement as the letter to Gleeson was released.
HFI said stakeholder bodies in countries across Europe are engaged in consultations with EU officials regarding farmers’ potential to benefit financially from all parts of the hemp plant. But Irish farmers and operators are prevented from participating in those discussions by Irish government ministers and agencies who don’t understand the complexities of the hemp industry.
Investments at risk
“There is no legal basis for the DAFM exclusions and there is no legal basis for the exclusions being imposed on our farmers and operators by the Department of Enterprise,” Allen said.
HFI said EU statistics and Irish farm income data show Irish farmers are losing up to €2,550 per acre based on 2020 cash values for hemp as a result of current policies that limit income to the hemp stalk.
Furthermore, HFI said, businesses in Ireland have invested in food safety applications to clear their products under EU novel food rules, only to have Food Safety Authority Ireland (FSAI) issue a decision that those products be removed from the Irish market in light of their implied designation as novel foods.
To reach that decision, “the Department of Health, Finance, the Gardai, the Public Analyst’s Laboratory, Forensic Science Ireland, the FSAI, the HPRA (Health Products Regulatory Authority), and Customs and Revenue, have established a fully coordinated approach to rendering our investments meaningless,” HFI said in the letter to Gleeson.
“This consultation process now seeks to rationalize, sanitize, and normalize a dismantling governance infrastructure which was established with no regard for Irish law, no regard for European law, and no regard for the democratic and constitutional rights of Irish hemp farmers and operators,” HFI charged.
HFI called on Ireland’s legislature to intervene.
“Nobody who reads our letter could be left in any doubt that the regulation of the Irish hemp industry must be addressed by legislators and sorted out immediately,” Allen said. “The unlawful regulation of this crop and the dismantling of this industry by unlawful means must be addressed in the Dail.”