The decision has been welcomed by industry players keen to reap the rewards of the international market for hemp foods, which is currently estimated to be worth $1bn annually.
The Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation gave hemp seeds the tick of approval during last week's Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting.
Australia’s largest manufacturer of hemp foods is Hemp Foods Australia, owned by long-time campaigner Paul Benhaim.
He has repeatedly highlighted the nutritional, economic and environmental benefits of hemp consumption.
“Hemp seeds contain high quality protein and the good fats, as well as polyunsaturated fatty acids, and are the only food to contain Omega 3 and 6 in the correct amounts to meet our long-term nutritional needs,” he said.
“They are also a natural source of B vitamins, vitamin D3, minerals and magnesium, making them a nutritious food ingredient.”
Industry trade body Complementary Medicines Australia (CMA) said the rule change would put the country on a par with Europe and North America.
CMA CEO Carl Gibson said: “CMA has strongly supported that low-THC hemp be legally designated as a food.The ability to include nutritious hemp-based foods in our diets is a positive step forward for Australians. A healthy diet is a prerequisite for the prevention of many chronic diseases. Unfortunately, Australians are not consuming a diet that is high in quality nutrients and their health is suffering as a result.”
Hemp is different to marijuana as it contains no, or very low levels of THC (delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol), the cannabinoid associated with the psychoactive properties of marijuana.
It has been acknowledged that the new rule will take effect six months after it has been gazetted because there is still some New Zealand and Australian state and territory legislation that will need to be amended.
The market for Australian hemp foods is expected to quadruple in the next few years.
"Australian hemp farmers were elated at the decision to approve hemp as a food and separate it from marijuana,” added Hemp Foods' Benhaim.
“In addition to added job opportunities for Australia’s farming industry, this is a very positive step towards more sustainable farming in Australia.
“We expect to see hemp seeds, protein oil and flour used by Australian restaurants and many manufacturers in their recipes,” he added.
Associate Professor in Nutritional Science at University of Canberra, Dr Duane Mellor said hemp had been consumed in other countries for many years, offering a great source of protein and vegetarian source of omega 3 fatty acids.
“It can be used as a crushed seed, flour, oil or protein powder, which can be used in a variety of recipes and foods, from breads, through burger patties and even in desserts and confectionary.”