IRISH hemp production has fallen dramatically as a result of changes to Government rules which are now being challenged in the High Court.
Ireland’s hemp industry is one of the oldest in the European Union (EU) with a fully operational supply chain since the 1990’s, reaching a footprint of 574 hectares in 2019.
However, whilst almost every other European country has seen significant recent increases in hemp cultivation, Ireland’s has fallen by over 40% since 2020.
Chris Allen of the Hemp Federation Ireland said: “This decline began when the Irish government decided that the legal EU hemp crop in its entirety was no longer eligible for state enterprise or agricultural grant support.
“Ireland has a modern fully-functioning industry but the Irish government started to change the way it interpreted various laws, rules and regulations in late 2018.
“Now the entire control of the agricultural supply chain for the agricultural industry is with pharmaceutical companies.
“State support for any commercial activity related to the farm crop, including the fibres and seeds, has been removed from the farming industry and Irish hemp is now in the control of pharmaceutical companies.
“As a result of these changes hemp production has nosedived in Ireland.”
Having significantly disabled the farming sector, the Government recently announced plans to allow hemp farmers to use the stalk of the hemp plant.
However, this attempt to rectify the situation has been dismissed as ‘thin gruel’ by the HFI; the organisation has now formally withdrawn from the Department of Agriculture’s ‘hemp stalk’ consultation.
Ms Allen highlighted how hemp is one of the most viable EU cash crops worth €3,000 an acre in 2020 with the amended proposals reducing farm incomes to €600 per acre at best.
She described the current situation as ‘insane’ and said ‘no rational person would engage in a government consultation to permanently remove three quarters of their previous year’s income’.
High Court Challenge
Similar actions across multiple government agencies in Ireland have prompted a legal challenge by the HFI members in the Irish High Court.
The cases were launched last year and are expected to go to a full hearing in the first quarter of 2022.
The legal challenges are asking the Court to rule on the Irish Government’s misrepresentation of EU law and the status of CBD in the European Union.
The Irish Government is currently prosecuting Irish industry stakeholders – retailers of hemp and CBD products – and also consumers who purchase products such as hemp and CBD flowers.
The HFI argues that the Irish Government has failed to properly interpret the European Court of Justice decision in the KanaVape case, which effectively ruled that CBD is not a narcotic drug and that the hemp leaves and flowers from which the CBD is derived can be freely traded across the Member States of the European Union.
Government Contradiction & Confusion
While The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) has confirmed that farmers and food business operators can use the flowers and leaves of the crop to make CBD in line with the Kanavape decision, another branch of the Irish Department of Health – The Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) – refuses to acknowledge this.
Then there is further confusion over the designation of hemp/CBD products as a traditional, or a Novel Food
She elaborated: “At a recent webinar, the FSAI also confirmed that Ireland observes the EU Commission’s previous classification of hemp as a traditional food in Europe and that Ireland considers products made from hemp, including CBD derived from the whole plant, as not Novel Foods.
“However, the HPRA now advises those same Irish farms and businesses that the Department of Health requires them to destroy the leaves and flowers of the crop at harvest. In effect, this means CBD products are both legal and illegal, novel and not novel in Ireland.”
Ms Allen said that while the Department of Health has allowed Ireland’s well established CBD market to remain open following the reclassification of hemp derived CBD in the EU Novel Food catalogue in 2019, FSAI has now adopted a literal interpretation of EU Novel Food regulation EU 2015/2283, while misinterpreting the Directive EC 2009/32. This means the FSAI will be permit cold-pressed products to remain in the shops.
These issues were brought to the fore in a HFI letter to the Secretary General of Ireland’s Department of Agriculture on September 23. The issue was also raised in the Irish Parliament recently when socialist TD Paul Murphy asked Health Minister Stephen Donnelly whether ‘his attention has been drawn to the Kanavape judgement’.
In response Mr Donnelly said: “The matters raised are sub judice, currently the subject of a legal challenge in which the Minister for Health is a respondent and can therefore offer no further comment.” Reports Extra.ie.
HFI’s figures show that hemp production increased from 76.5 hectares (ha) in 2017, to 229.83ha in 2018. Increasing again in 2019 to 574ha before plummeting in 2020 to 326ha as a result of the regulatory interventions.
Ms Allen went on to say that as hemp fibre and seeds are specifically excluded from the scope of Irish Misuse of Drugs laws and the whole EU hemp crop is protected under Article 34 of The Treaty Forming the European Union (TFEU) the transfer of control of the agricultural crop and supply chain to pharmaceutical interests in 2020 by Irish authorities should be addressed in the Irish parliament by Irish legislators.
BusinessCann has approached the Irish Health Department for comments and is yet to receive a response.