India takes first steps to opening up market for hempseed-based foods

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Food safety authorities in India have approved hemp seeds, hemp seed oil and seed-based flour as food and food ingredients, signaling a first crack in the opening of a vast market of 1.4 billion consumers.

The Food Safety and Security Authority of India (FSSAI) signed off on regulations last week that stakeholders say can help unlock the potential of hemp grain in the food and beverage sectors.

While the move partially resolves a lack of regulations which have held back India’s hemp industry, it’s too early to tell how fast the hempseed market can develop, said Nivedita Bansal Shah, co-founder and a consultant on India and Nepal at Shah Hemp Inno-Ventures, Janakpur.

‘Significant milestone’

“Its a significant milestone for the hemp industry in India. It’s a first victory at the country level and will make way for future development,” Shah said. “But there are a number of questions that still need to be answered before we’ll see hemp seeds readily selling in the Indian market.”

First, Shah said quality planting seeds are in short supply. “The availability of planting seed, and genetics for planting seed to produce grain (hemp food seed) still needs to be developed,” she said.

The Indian subcontinent is home to many indigenous varieties of cannabis. As the market gradually opens up, there will be huge demand for those strains. But cultivation seeds that can be expected to perform consistently still need to be developed from the local hemp varieties.

Hulled seeds only?

Furthermore, language in the regulations refers exclusively to “hulled seeds” – seeds in the shell. That would seem to exclude de-hulled seeds or hemp “nuts,” which are highly popular in markets where hempseed-based foods are more common.

More generally, India faces the challenge of a weak ecosystem for developing hemp food products exacerbated by a gap in knowledge and understanding of the processes involved in bringing products to market. Stakeholders say consumers must still be informed and educated about hemp, and research & development are needed to standardize the industry.

Among key details in the newly adopted regulations:

  • Only hemp seeds from plants that have less than 0.3% THC may be incorporated into food products.
  • THC content in food seeds may not exceed 5mg/kg and THC content in the oil extracted from such seeds is capped at 10mg/kg.
  • Beverages made from hemp seeds must not contain more than 0.2mg/kg THC.
  • Hemp seed flour is defined as “solid product after seeds are milled to a powder with or without extraction of oil.” Such products may not have more than 5mg/kg of THC.
  • CBD levels in hemp seed or seed-based food products may not exceed 75 mg/kg.
  • Product labels may not imply any psychoactive effects, nor include any nutrition or health claims about CBD, “any image/representation of the cannabis plant (including the leaf) other than the seeds, nor the words ‘cannabis’, ‘marijuana’ or words of similar meaning.”

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