For centuries, hemp had been ubiquitous in global commerce – from paper making and foodstuffs to the rope used on sailing vessels – until synthetic fibres usurped its naval role and global anti-drug sentiment put paid to the rest.
Now the market, while still small, is growing by about 10 per cent per year, with annual retail sales estimated between $350-million and $400-million.
Mike Fata, co-founder and chief executive officer of Winnipeg-based Manitoba Harvest Hemp Foods & Oils, believes Canada's hemp industry has a golden opportunity to turn lingering taboos on its head – especially south of the border. Hemp-based foods, he notes, are rich sources of protein and essential fatty acids like Omega-3 and Omega-6.
Vancouver-based Naturally Advanced Technologies Inc., established in 1998 as Hemptown Clothing Inc., is developing alternative fibres made out of flax and hemp. Its Crailar technology uses an enzyme process to remove lignin which is the natural glue that binds fibres like flax and hemp. Doing so gives those fibres a smoother texture and allows them to be processed in new blended fabrics that create savings for clothing makers because they require less cotton and are less prone to shrinkage.
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Manitoba Harvest's Mike Fata and Ken Barker, CEO of Naturally Advanced Technologies took questions in a live chat.
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