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UK group says lack of clear rules on CBD is public safety risk

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A cannabis stakeholder group has lashed out at national food safety authorities in the UK over continuing delays in clarification of the legal status of CBD, a situation the group says puts public safety at risk.

“The current legal status in the UK is not tested, unconfirmed and still open to interpretation,” the Cannabis Trades Association said in a statement following a meeting this month with the UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA). 

European problem

States across Europe face similar regulatory uncertainty in the wake of changes to the EU’s Novel Food Catalogue made early in 2019 that defined hemp extracts as “novel.” Under rules of the Catalogue, essentially a food safety mechanism intended in part to guide national rules makers, “novel” foods and food ingredients are defined as those not commonly consumed in European Union countries before 1997. Foods determined to be “novel” must undergo a lengthy, expensive risk assessment and registration process that could significantly hinder the overall market, stakeholders have said. 

Hemp interests at the national and EU levels, led by the European Industrial Hemp Association (EIHA), have argued that hemp extracts were consumed on the continent before 1997 — and therefore should be exempt from Novel Food rules. EIHA carried out extensive research for a paper it issued earlier this year demonstrating hemp extracts have been in the European diet throughout history.

‘Real public safety’ issue

Meanwhile, the muddled regulatory situation in the UK and across the continent has led to a “real public safety issue,” CTA noted.

Criticizing FSA for 11 months of inaction following the changes to the Novel Food Catalogue last January, CTA said in the statement: “In that time, we have seen the industry change dramatically . . . With a deluge of cheap CBD isolates replacing the high-quality full plant extracts that originally dominated the market.”

CBD advocates have acknowledged that CBD isolates and synthetically made CBD should be considered “novel” under the EU guidelines. But they argue that full plant extracts derived straight from the hemp plant should be exempt from Catalogue rules.

Novel Foods trap

CTA also suggested that “other trade bodies that have recently entered the industry” are making a mistake in urging their members to file for Novel Foods status for whole plant-based CBD products before the regulatory situation becomes more clear, noting “the very process of submitting a Novel Foods application is acceptance that the products are in fact novel.” 

Even having such approval, CTA added, “offer(s) no protection from enforcement action” by authorities. “It would be irrelevant if you had an application submitted or not. There is no grace period or transitional period offered to products undergoing the application process,” CTA noted. “Those products could be removed from sale while the application is being processed, which could take up to six years.” 

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