| The story of Aus­tralia’s hemp pi­o­neer

On May 1, 2017 hemp was fi­nally le­galised as a food in Aus­tralia. Here is the re­mark­able story of the man who has spent the past two decades com­mit­ted to shar­ing the health of hemp with ev­ery­one.

Living Now - - Contents - by Paul Ben­haim

It was dur­ing my trav­els in Canada in 1993 that I was in­tro­duced to Dy­lan, who owned a hemp store in down­town Mon­treal. Dy­lan was your typ­i­cal long-haired guy who showed me his 6-foot long bong and all the other things hemp can be used for: pa­per notepads, tex­tiles, fab­rics of all kinds, and my first sight of a hemp food bar. The food was ob­vi­ously made in some­one’s kitchen and hand-wrapped, but it made an im­pact on me upon hear­ing about hemp seeds' nu­tri­tional con­tent. For starters, hemp seeds are high in omega 3 and 6 essen­tial fatty acids, and are a great source of pro­tein.

For some years prior I had been trav­el­ling through­out Asia, liv­ing with lo­cals who spoke no English and knew noth­ing about for­eign­ers ex­cept that they were white. I knew as lit­tle about them and spent time ob­serv­ing their habits. Af­ter some weeks, which be­came months, I no­ticed how their lives re­volved around food. In the morn­ings the women would go out and tend to their crops, fetch­ing water, har­vest­ing, and ul­ti­mately pre­par­ing food, which re­sulted in a late lunch where the men sud­denly ap­peared. Food time, which con­tained some items not con­sumed in the west, would last quite some time and was of­ten filled with laugh­ter. It al­ways fin­ished with an af­ter­noon siesta. My big­gest ob­ser­va­tion was that these peo­ple, who lived vir­tu­ally with­out money or san­i­ta­tion and lived lit­er­ally sur­rounded by shit, were the health­i­est and hap­pi­est peo­ple I had ever met in my life.

This was a lot to take in, as I had been brought up in mid­dle class Lon­don, which is very multi-cul­tural. Not wash­ing your hands with soap be­fore each meal was not heard of where I was brought up. In parts of Asia I vis­ited – they used hands for some­thing else. Enough to say, there was no toi­let pa­per there.


These ex­pe­ri­ences led me to take an in­ter­est in nu­tri­tion, hap­pi­ness, longevity, and sus­tain­abil­ity – a word now overused, but still wor­thy of dis­cus­sion (not here). These lengthy stud­ies (I of­ten trav­elled with a back­pack of books rather than any­thing else), which in­cluded long sab­bat­i­cals high in the Hi­malayas, dis­persed with song and fire­side chats led me to learn about good fats. It is now un­der­stood by many that there are good fats and bad fats. The fats used to sta­bilise foods for shelf life that are more ideal for large food chain out­lets are of­ten not ideal for the body, whereas the fats found in small quan­ti­ties in fresh and un­pro­cessed foods are the op­po­site – they are in fact essen­tial for life to ex­ist.

When I later met with Dy­lan in Mon­treal and he men­tioned that hemp had the ideal bal­ance of these essen­tial

fatty acids, I knew what he was say­ing and started to take him more se­ri­ously. This soon led to me re­al­is­ing hemp is the most nu­tri­tious and use­ful plant known to man. I re-read Fats That Heal Fats That Kill by Dr Udo Eras­mus and found that hemp was only awarded a para­graph. I sought a meet­ing with Dr Eras­mus in the USA and asked him why was hemp only given a to­ken men­tion. He ex­plained it was due to the stigma sur­round­ing hemp that he did not put his name to it, de­spite it truly be­ing one of the best foods ever.


From this meet­ing, my young, ide­al­is­tic self im­me­di­ately de­cided this was to be­come my mis­sion – to tell the world that hemp seeds are fan­tas­tic. I headed back to my coun­try of birth and sought vol­un­teer­ing to help spread the mes­sage to any­one sell­ing this su­per seed. I was dis­ap­pointed to find no one. I scoured the in­fa­mous Em­peror Wears No Clothes by Jack Herer and learnt that East­ern Euro­peans had al­ways con­sumed hemp seeds as a tra­di­tional food. Dy­lan had a friend who made hemp cloth­ing in Hun­gary who of­fered to take me to meet the farm­ers to dis­cuss what they did with the seed. I trav­elled a long way and dis­cov­ered they were hand cut­ting and hand thrash­ing (har­vest­ing) their small plots of hemp for the seeds that they were us­ing in their tra­di­tional soups.

In Hun­gary I pur­chased my first ton of hemp seeds, know­ing I was sup­port­ing a great lo­cal tra­di­tional farm­ing fam­ily. The prod­uct was shipped to me in the UK where I quickly re­alised it would be a chal­lenge to sell bird seed to the masses. In­stead, us­ing my knowl­edge re­gard­ing nu­tri­tion and other nuts and seeds also con­tain­ing essen­tial fatty acids I de­vel­oped a recipe with a small bak­ery to pre­pare what I con­sid­ered a tasty snack bar.

In­stead of ed­u­cat­ing peo­ple about hemp I had the no­tion that if peo­ple ate a tasty snack bar, their bod­ies would recog­nise the much-needed nu­tri­tion and their brains would com­mu­ni­cate ‘buy that again!’ They would, in my words at the time, be ad­dicted to healthy nu­tri­tion.


I made a name up, the 9bar (nine in­gre­di­ents, nine grams of pro­tein per bar, and other mean­ings of the 9bar that only some Bri­tish peo­ple may un­der­stand), cre­ated some pack­ag­ing on my home com­puter, and went about sell­ing to fam­ily and friends, then lo­cal health stores. They sug­gested I pro­mote at a trade show, and I did a few. Long hair, tres­tle table, and home printed pro­mo­tions were all I had and yes, I did look strange and was mainly ig­nored. That was un­til I pro­moted at the largest health food trade show in Ger­many – Bio­fach. There a Cana­di­an­born gen­tle­man liv­ing in Ger­many said, “I un­der­stand your con­cept – when can you de­liver 10,000 snack bars for me to sell in Ger­many?”

My first suc­cess! I rushed back to dis­cuss with my man­u­fac­tur­ing part­ner in An­gle­sey in North Wales, UK. His re­sponse to my good news was, “Sorry, I am too busy." I was dev­as­tated. Thank­fully he con­tin­ued with an of­fer to in­tro­duce me to an­other man­u­fac­turer that may help me. That new man­u­fac­turer took a lot of per­suad­ing. 10,000 was a big num­ber for me, but for them was a small min­i­mum or­der quan­tity. They asked me why they should do it and not fo­cus on their 30+ other snack bars they were mak­ing and sell­ing hun­dreds of thou­sands of. They em­ployed around 20 peo­ple at that time.

I ex­plained that hemp was a sus­tain­able plant and its many uses as a crop that could sup­port lo­cal small farm­ers. I told them how hemp can im­prove their soil and sus­tain­abil­ity as a ro­ta­tion for other crops whilst us­ing less water. I also in­formed them about how the seed can be har­vested not only for the nu­tri­tion, but for the stalk that could be made into tex­tiles, build­ing ma­te­ri­als, bio­plas­tics, car parts, and more. He agreed. That was in 1996. Two decades later, that man­u­fac­turer em­ploys around 400 peo­ple and most of their pro­duc­tion is ded­i­cated to the 9bar, which has led to mas­sive growth and suc­cess in sell­ing hun­dreds of mil­lions of snack bars glob­ally.


This suc­cess led me to re­al­is­ing my the­ory about the body need­ing nu­tri­tion pack­aged in tasty food prod­ucts. I de­cided to move my fo­cus from run­ning a suc­cess­ful com­pany to con­sult­ing with

other key brands about how they too (for ex­am­ple) can turn their nat­u­ral bread into a hemp bread. This worked also, and I helped cre­ate the first non-dairy hemp milk, hemp ice cream, hemp pasta, hemp sauces, numer­ous other hemp snack bars, hemp break­fast ce­re­als, hemp breads, and much more.

Shortly af­ter, I wrote and com­pleted a 300-page book on food, nu­tri­tion, nat­u­ral heal­ing, per­ma­cul­ture, and how they are all con­nected, pub­lished by Lon­don’s Vi­sion Paper­backs. It was to be the first of 9 (yes, a spe­cial num­ber to me) books I have now au­thored and trans­lated into numer­ous lan­guages.

Late in 1999 I was head hunted to bring my knowl­edge of hemp foods to Aus­tralia. I had vis­ited once be­fore and loved its ge­og­ra­phy. Hemp was only just start­ing to be grown there and I was told that hemp foods would soon be le­galised. I de­vel­oped new snack bars, ice creams, pasta and sauces, and dis­cussed the pro­duc­tion of hemp milk with one of Aus­tralia’s lead­ing pro­duc­ers. I had even pre-sold some of these prod­ucts, based on leg­isla­tive sup­port of hemp foods, to the ma­jor su­per­mar­kets. I was all set and wait­ing for hemp leg­is­la­tion to be ap­proved when it was knocked back.


This was to be the first of three ap­pli­ca­tions to al­low hemp as a food in Aus­tralia over the next 17 years. It has been 17 years of which I have spent a long and hard time watch­ing my in­ter­na­tional friends be very suc­cess­ful while I found my­self in the only coun­try that did not al­low hemp as a food.

Dur­ing those 17 years I wrote more books, trained oth­ers glob­ally to be suc­cess­ful busi­ness lead­ers, man­aged a health re­sort (9 months – the only time I have ev­ery worked out­side of the hemp in­dus­try), cre­ated a hemp bio­plas­tics busi­ness, sup­ported hemp build­ing projects, and trav­elled as a lead speaker at con­fer­ences in Europe, Asia, and more.

It was not un­til I no­ticed peo­ple start­ing to im­port low qual­ity hemp seeds to Aus­tralia and sell them at high prices in 2012 that I de­cided to im­port high qual­ity hemp seeds and sell them at the best price pos­si­ble for the con­sumer. Within three months this evolved from a busi­ness in my garage to a small ware­house and now to a state-of-the art hemp foods pro­cess­ing fa­cil­ity de­signed and built in the Byron Shire of NSW that pro­duces 100% Aus­tralian cer­ti­fied or­ganic hemp seeds, hemp oil, hemp pro­tein, and flour. We have also de­vel­oped a skin­care range, but that has re­cently stalled due to more re­stric­tive Aus­tralian leg­is­la­tion (we hope this will soon be over­come).


All of our prod­ucts in Aus­tralia and New Zealand have been sold for ex­ter­nal use only – you must rub them on your body. I have no idea why so many peo­ple do this in Aus­tralia, but they do it seems (I have to guess what they do in their own homes). We now ex­port to ev­ery con­ti­nent on our planet and have won awards for in­no­va­tion, ex­port, em­ploy­ment, and busi­ness acu­men. We also process other Aus­tralian grow­ers' crops, sell OEM and have a strong R&D team. Our su­per­star team in­cludes na­tional farm­ing man­agers that en­sure Aus­tralian farm­ers are ed­u­cated on how to grow and sup­ply sus­tain­able or­ganic hemp seeds. We in­tend for Aus­tralia to be­come the largest cer­ti­fied or­ganic hemp seed grower in the world, which is no easy task af­ter the Cana­dian and Chi­nese who have had decades of a head start.

For now the fu­ture is bright ( green), and due to the re­cent Aus­tralian leg­is­la­tion to al­low hemp as a food we are now see­ing a much wider dis­tri­bu­tion chan­nel open­ing up which in­cludes man­u­fac­tur­ers of other foods. So ex­pect to see snack bars, ce­re­als, milks, and much more on the shelf of your lo­cal store soon.

Ev­ery­one can make a dif­fer­ence by fol­low­ing their dreams, choos­ing where they spend their hard-earned money, and shar­ing the pos­i­tive news. ■ Con­nect with other read­ers & com­ment on this ar­ti­cle at www.liv­ing­now.com.au

Paul Ben­haim is a pi­o­neer of the hemp food in­dus­try glob­ally, CEO of Hemp Foods Aus­tralia and founder of Elix­i­nol, a med­i­cal cannabis com­pany.

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