In the last years, numerous CBD containing food products appeared on the European market. In contrast to tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), CBD is not classified as a narcotic, and its possession and consumption for consumers is in principle legal. This does not automatically mean that CBD can be legally sold as a food ingredient, however.

So, one year ago, the European Commission updated the Novel Food Catalogue regarding Cannabis sativa L., Cannabidiol, and Cannabinoids. With this update, and according to the Novel Food Catalogue, more or less all products consisting of or containing hemp extracts from plant parts other than seeds are considered novel foods and require a novel food application.

Despite resistance from industry, three CBD novel food applications have been submitted to the EU Commission (for more information check EFSA Registry of Questions mainly for synthetic CBD isolate. It seems that EFSA did not yet initiate the formal evaluation procedure (as of January 2020). The result of the safety evaluation by EFSA/EU Commission will determine whether CBD (and hemp extracts) will have a future in the food sector, or whether drug status and defined use in cosmetic will remain the only legal category for these ingredients.

The UK is the EU market (until Brexit) where more CBD-containing products can be found. In a recent application for consultation to determine the status of a novel food, pursuant to Article 4(2), the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) considered CBD as novel food stating that “a history of consumption had not been demonstrated for the CBD isolate” and “that the final product was different from the starting material and that there may be differences in exposure because of the concentration of the CBD component”. Despite this, and based on FSA Board meeting from 22 January 2020, the UK Agency is currently applying a proportional approach to regulation with CBD. Meaning that the Agency’s approach is to work with the industry in a compliance approach towards novel food. But for now, no CBD-containing product will be removed from the market. If there is any evidence that CBD poses a significant risk to health, then the Agency will take actions under the Food Safety Law. However, the Agency finds it important to mentioned that consumers need to understand that there are no authorized CBD products on the market and that these products are currently unregulated, and they need to make their decisions in that light.

Similarly, the Cannabis Trade Organization (CTA), in a press release from 22 January also mentioned that FSA has no current plans to immediately withdraw CBD products from the shelves (until further notice). CTA is planning to launch a systematic campaign of political and media engagement to keep pressure on the FSA) not to attempt to enforce any move against the CBD industry based on the ‘Novel Foods’ issue.

While there is a consensus among National Authorities on the status of CBD in Europe, different approaches toward CBD-containing products on the market are being taken, mainly between EU mainland countries and the UK (de jure not a part of the EU as of January 31st). To see which EU countries have been more active in enforcing the novel food regulation, –  “unauthorized novel food ingredient cannabidiol (CBD) in food supplement” –  please have a look at the Food and Feed Safety Alerts (RASFF) portal.

If you are considering to develop, import, or market cannabis-containing products as foods or medicinal products, we can support you. Get in touch!

– 31.01.2020

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