As European hemp food stakeholders have taken up the battle to reverse recent changes to EU rules on hemp extracts, the whole furor begs a question: How did regulations that producers earlier described as “workable,” transform into an added headache that the industry doesn’t need?
In a nutshell, the updated rules now require producers of hemp extracts used in food – including, importantly, CBD – to undergo stringent and costly registration requirements; the rules guide the EU’s Novel Food Catalogue, a listing of foods that were not commonly eaten in the member states before 1997. The Catalogue is essentially a food safety mechanism, intended and invented to control new, genetically or synthetically designed food products before market entry – not to hinder products that have been consumed for ages.
Some stakeholders realized last year that changes in the Food Catalogue (which officially took effect Jan. 20, 2019) were coming, and began filing registration paperwork.
That started what we might call a “cycle of compliance” in which producers who filed for Novel Food status were confirming their products should be thus categorized.
Other stakeholders have since argued the newly written rules are wrong, and could disrupt the entire European hemp food business, hurting Europe’s chances in the exploding global hemp food marketplace where big players such as China, Canada, the United States and Switzerland are aggressively competing.
Who changed the rules?
The European Industrial Hemp Association (EIHA) has led pushback against the new language, with Association representatives coming away hopeful after a recent presentation to the EC’s Standing Committee Working Group on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed (PAFF).
But we’re back to asking: How did the rules get changed in the first place? And who is responsible?
These are questions that can sometimes be difficult to answer given the confidential nature in which the Commission and Member States conduct the affairs of the Union. However, there’s a hint of an answer in testimony delivered to the PAFF meeting in early March.
Who profits from the sick?
“Surely there is an industry out there that makes profits by having sick customers,” EIHA Board Member Daniel Kruse, a 26-year veteran of the hemp business, told Commission and Member State representatives in prepared remarks. “There might be a conflict of interest,” he noted dryly.
Kruse left it at that, reminding those assembled that “Our hemp industry, similar to the natural food and food supplements industry, makes profit by keeping customers healthy.”
Certain Member States pushed for the changes That much is clear. Which ones, for now, remains a mystery.
Workable to unworkable
But the upshot is unnecessary short-term confusion, and precious time wasted by the switch from what was previously a “workable” framework for hemp foods to one that threatens the industry, according to Kruse.
“The situation before was not perfect,” he said. “But the previous rules did not place CBD-bearing foods in the Novel Food Catalogue.
“In 1998, the commission ruled that food containing parts of the hemp plant was not novel food,” according to Kruse. “Hemp leaves and flowers were not under Novel Foods Catalogue restrictions.”
Those rules made CBD acceptable as a normal food ingredient under a logical guideline that products derived from hemp plants contain a level of CBD molecules no greater than those of the plant in the field.
“We were basically able to live with that,” Kruse said.
Get some science
To Kruse, one thing is apparent from the latest round of confusion over hemp foods in Europe: All EU member state delegates who serve on bodies responsible for food safety in Europe should have backgrounds in science, he suggested.
Nonetheless, they only need to understand one rather general fact: “Hemp flower has been farmed, processed and consumed in Europe for thousands of years. It is one of the oldest crops of mankind,” Kruse said.
History on our side: See EIHA’s collection of artifacts proving hemp’s legacy as a food in Europe.
Food fight: What EIHA representatives told the European Commission.