How did you become interested in hemp and how did your background get you here?
I am knowledgeable about European law, and I am a lobbyist in Brussels. To me, being a lobbyist means to defend and represent the interests of the sector you are working in. I started in oil and gas and was in that sector for four years. Then I was working within the European Commission (the EU’s politically independent executive arm, which promotes the general interest of the EU by proposing and enforcing legislation as well as by implementing policies and the EU budget.) I got bored and then went outside to industry again. I was hired to lobby for the wine industry, and it is a lovely sector, but sometimes if you have to defend a dossier you don’t believe in, you have to step away. After a couple years the European Industrial Hemp Association (EIHA) contacted me and, as I learned about it, I got interested in hemp.
Hemp is a tough sector. It changes on a daily basis. Hemp is beneficial for the people, the economy and the planet. I hope to make the Earth a better place by defending the three categories of the industry that we represent: producers (farmers), processors – those who transform hemp into products – and traders, the ones who trade the product around Europe. I defend them to the legislature.
Lobbying is a part of any democratic process. I believe the decision-makers cannot know everything from cereal to fisheries to space – it’s too wide. I feel we as lobbyists provide the authorities with the right information to make informed decisions. Only informed decision-making can score best for two sides of the same coin: operators and regulators. Regulators do want to make good laws. We are there to share the knowledge of our operators to inform that process.
Tell us about your experience at EIHA
When I was hired in 2019, my first meeting was with 37 members in a small room in Cologne, Germany. Now we have over 200 and need a much bigger room! The EIHA represents all parts of the plant and all products: construction, cosmetics, animal feed, plastic, food. We have a seven-member board elected every two years. We also have a volunteer advisory committee of outside professionals such as doctors and professors. I have worked hard to bring many industry participants into the membership.
I am very proud that we are working with a large scientific committee composed of 43 universities and 62 professors. We are collecting the arguments in favor of hemp to show the European Commission. We need science to persuade. Our scientific committee members are from all over the world, including lots of American universities.
What are the top EIHA goals for 2023?
They are about raising THC limits.
Hemp is so complex we have divided it into two parts. The upper part is seeds, flowers and leaves. In this category, hemp extracts are considered a novel food, which is basically a food not widely consumed before 1997. We have to provide studies to show intoxicating levels to fight for higher THC allowances. We have created a consortium and raised 3.5 million euros to conduct studies with our scientific partners on CBD isolate and full spectrum, as well as THC, to submit to the authorities on intoxication levels. The authorities have set up THC limits and my goal is to increase them. We are also fighting for higher THC limits in hemp cattle feed.
From the bottom part of the plant we have fiber and shiv. Textile fibers include long, for clothing textiles, and short for more technical textiles like face masks and agricultural cloth covers. This market is growing and members are seeking investment, so we make sure the investors speak with the right operators. We also want to repatriate the supply chain to Europe. We are working with the European Commission to develop codes for the shiv in construction so producers of building materials can trade in Europe.
What will you be talking about at NoCo9?
I will present, from a regulatory standpoint, where we stand in Europe with feed, food, biocomposite, textiles and building material. This is the future. And in another talk I will give a perspective on international markets and trade. We are barely getting started. Two years ago, people were looking for extra warehouses for all the hemp flower in the CBD bubble; now they are ready to pay double the money for fiber and shivs. There is nothing around but leftover flower. It’s a question of supply and demand. I will cover these topics in my two talks. In past years I had to decline the invitation because of conflicts on my schedule. I am very excited to participate in NoCo this year.
What can you tell us about the EIHA conference in June?
This is our 20th conference. It is a moment where the industry comes together in person, although since COVID we now also have remote online participants. It’s a nice way to stay together. We organize dinner, lunches, cocktails, brainstorming sessions. In the general meeting with members we consider all the challenges to the hemp industry and put our minds together. This year is the first year non-members will be admitted to the general meeting to participate in the conversation. Then we have speaker sessions and we try to bring forward people with good ideas who can help us collaborate. We will have a member of the European Parliament coming over and one from the European Commission. So my members can ask questions of someone other than me! We want to participate in growth and collaboration in growing the worldwide hemp industry. In the end what we want is a big cake, not a big slice.