Fighting for hemp foods in Germany

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INTERVIEW: Daniel Kruse, President, European Industrial Hemp Association

[Original in German on Hanf Magazin]

Daniel Kruse has been in the hemp industry since 1995. He is the founder and CEO of Hempro Int. GmbH & Co. KG, a vertically integrated Dusseldorf-based producer and wholesaler of hemp foods, bulk raw materials for food, textiles, accessories and cosmetics. He was elected President of the EIHA in November 2019.

Hanf Magazin: According to the version of the Novel Food Catalogue entry from 2017 to the beginning of 2019, CBD hemp products were not Novel Food if the CBD level was not artificially enriched, but corresponded to the natural level of the underlying raw material, i.e. the hemp plant. This is also the position that EIHA has held for years. On the basis of this version of the earlier confirmations by the EU Commission and the older Novel Food Catalogue entries, the hemp industry has made considerable investments, created jobs and ultimately also built up the CBD industry over the last 20 years. In January 2019 the Novel Food catalogue entry was changed to the version on which Germany’s Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL) also bases its published statement on its homepage. What does this change mean?

Daniel Kruse: The old entries in the Novel Food Catalogue were not an obstacle for the industry and were both historically and logically comprehensible. The production of hemp-based food, even with a naturally present level of cannabinoids in it, was thus possible. Since January 2019 the new entry in the Novel Food Catalogue exists. According to this, the industry should now only work with hemp seeds as raw material for food. Hemp leaves, flowers and extracts obtained from them are now suddenly subject to the Novel Food Regulation, according to the new catalogue entry and would therefore be subject to approval.

HM: What damage would this change of the catalogue entry cause, if one would simply leave it as it is and act accordingly?

DK: The whole hemp plant should of course continue to be used as before. By the way, this also corresponds to the centuries-long history of hemp as a foodstuff or food ingredient. The hemp leaves, for example, have long been used to make excellent tea. Tea, just like coffee, is also a so-called aqueous extract. But other extraction agents have also been used for centuries to produce hemp extracts. The leaves, flowers and seeds have therefore always been a valuable foodstuff. Additionally, building materials and textiles can be produced from the fibres. As an industry we therefore still need the whole plant. On the one hand, this is about real sustainability. On the other hand, one very important aspect is not taken into account by many people: For farmers and companies, cultivation and production have to make a contribution to profits. If, however, we are again not allowed to use the whole plant, this is already problematic for various reasons.

HM: After the press release of EIHA from 03.03.2020 the branch association of the cannabis industry (BVCW) has made an inquiry to the BVL. The answer was that the press release of the EIHA was incomprehensible and surprising in content. This is now being interpreted by some media as meaning that the issue has not really been clarified. How do you see this? Did you expect this answer from BVL?

DK: The BVCW’s inquiry to the BVL was phrased somewhat unfortunately. EIHA never claimed in the press release to have reached an agreement with the BVL. How could it? The BVL has never reacted to our submission of evidence and our repeated offers of talks. If the BVCW had put the question to the BMEL (Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture), the answer would probably have been different. The question to the Federal Government could easily have revealed a different set of facts and language.

HM: The BVL has stated in correspondence that there is no evidence for this and that they are aware that hemp and CBD were consumed in the EU in significant quantities before the Novel Food Regulation came into force. I myself have examined the documents and the BVL’s statement in this blanket statement is definitely wrong. Can you explain how the BVL’s statements came about?

DK: The latest statements of the BVL do indeed give the impression that the BVL was not aware of all the facts and figures. It may be that something has not been taken into account. In the meantime, however, the receipt of all our documents has been confirmed there. For sure in this sense, our press release has been a success. Now we have to wait for the next reaction of the BVL. EIHA still has a genuine, sustained interest in dealing with BVL objectively on the basis of facts. However, this now also includes the historically indisputable centuries-old use of hemp as a foodstuff in today’s EU.

Why these products should now suddenly be regarded as “novel” is therefore neither factually nor legally clear to us. It is incomprehensible that especially here in Germany one wants to “forget and negate lived history”. I refer to the evidence we have presented as examples, such as the inscription from the tower in Bologna “Cannabis Protectio” (Cannabis is protection) or the old recipes from cookbooks with extracts and hemp leaf tortelli, but also to food supplements of the time and the names of hemp native to Europe, which is called “edible grass” and “vegetable” for good reason. Not to mention the written confirmations of the EU Commission from 1998, according to which “foodstuffs which contain parts of the hemp plant, such as hemp flowers, are not covered by Regulation (EC) 258/97 (the Novel Food Regulation).”

HM: In Germany many people have the impression that our authorities are particularly conservative with CBD. Are there other EU countries that are comparably strict?

DK: “Conservative” is the wrong word here. It comes from “conservare”, Latin for “to hold on to traditional things.” With such an attitude, hemp food and its extracts would not have to be questioned at all. Firstly, because before the Novel Food Regulation came into force on 15.05.1997, it was a centuries-old practice in today’s EU to produce hemp extracts for the purpose of consumption, and secondly, because the decisions of the EU Commission made 22 years ago – namely that parts of the hemp plant were not subject to the Novel Food Regulation – would then be adhered to. And thirdly, because many of our daily foods are “extracts” (Latin for “to pull out”) in the actual (i.e. traditional) sense – also to conserve (!) food, i.e. to make it more durable.

Unfortunately, the authorities in Germany – but also other representatives of the Member States in the PAFF group in Brussels – are acting as if extracts from hemp were suddenly something eerie new – i.e. “novel”.

This may be true for novel extraction techniques, but not for the traditional extractions listed in EU Directive 2009/32/EC. According to this directive, a traditional food that has been extracted with one of the traditional extraction agents listed there (also CO2 or ethanol) is still a permitted food – and not a novel food. According to Article 2(1), second subparagraph of this Directive 2009/32/EC, it is stipulated that – and I quote – “Member States may not prohibit, restrict or impede the placing on the market of foodstuffs or food ingredients on grounds relating to the extraction solvents used or their residues if they comply with the provisions of this Directive.”

The German authorities are therefore more “inconsistent” (from the Latin inconsequentia = inconsistency, contradiction) with cannabinoids than with the natural ingredients of hemp. The authorities in the Netherlands are much more pragmatic, although there, too, demands are made on the industry in the form of standards. But at least the communication between industry and authorities is correct. In England too, on the part of the Food Standards Agency, the latest approach is extremely cooperative and constructive.

HM: Regardless of the reactions of the BMEL or the government, the BVL shows itself to be unreasonable and apparently does not want to change the erroneous statement on the website. What can be done now?

DK: As I said before, we have to wait and see. Only after the press release did the BVL finally confirm receipt of our documents. So the ball is now in the authority’s court to comment or react in some way. German authorities should also learn (as in other countries) to cooperate with representatives and experts from industry, instead of a “Prussian-official” deciding everything “from above.” As a hemp industry we are very well willing and able to bring safe and healthy products to the market. As a food manufacturer I have been involved with this issue for more than 15 years. But for this you need reliable, sensible and scientifically based regulations and standards – and no inconsistent and only ideologically influenced arbitrariness.

HM: What is the BVL actually concerned about? The topic does not meet the original meaning of the Novel Food Regulation. Is it a fight against the general liberalization of hemp?

DK: We don’t know. Part of the resistance against CBD could perhaps come from the pharmaceutical industry. That would not be new and reminds us of the time when garlic capsules were meticulously and strictly classified as pharmaceuticals in Germany, although garlic could be bought and consumed as a food in nature at every corner. It was only after the EU Commission brought an action against Germany before the European Court of Justice that this view was finally changed here. There are, however, many more examples of natural substances which are present both in traditional foods and in higher doses in food supplements, and which in turn, with very high active ingredient content, are then used as medicine.

But the conflict of interests between the industry, which makes money when people are sick (medicine), and an industry considered successful when people stay healthy (e.g. food supplements), is well known. An interesting topic, especially in times of a coronavirus pandemic, I think. However, the current pandemic debate also shows how important it is to listen to scientists who are dealing with the subject in a professional manner and who have gained valuable experience and knowledge from the past, and not to just naively discuss things away because it is not convenient.

The current behavior in Germany can also be based on an ideologically shaped ignorance regarding the whole hemp issue. Insecurity almost always generates bias and defensive behavior. Therefore discussions with an association like EIHA, which has decades of experience, could play an important role.