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Can CBD Be Sold As ‘Hemp Oil’ To Avoid Novel Food Rules?

A LEADING UK trade group has unveiled plans to circumvent the looming Novel Food CBD rules by asking its 100-plus members to market their products as hemp oil.

CannaPro says the UK Food Standards Agency’s (FSA) ‘failure’ to recognise that CBD has been eaten in hemp extracts for hundreds of years has forced its hand.

Peter Reynolds, founder of CannaPro.

However, this semantic sidestep by the CannaPro could be deemed a criminal offence, says the FSA.

The detailed guidance from CannaPro can be found here. In summary it asks members to remove the term ‘CBD’ (cannabidiol) from their products and replace it with ‘Hemp Oil or Low-THC Cannabis Oil’.

Peter Reynolds, founder of CannaPro, said: “This is a sensible solution based on respected legal advice and if our members follow it they should be safe from enforcement.”

CBD, Hemp And Novel Food

CannaPro’s move follows the FSA’s recent ruling that from April, next year, only CBD products with a validated Novel Food application can be sold in the UK.

However, CannaPro and other industry figures say whole hemp plant extracts, including those containing CBD and other cannabinoids, are not novel. 

They have presented evidence to show that extracts of hemp – or Cannabis Sativa – have been widely used in food across Europe for hundreds of years.

The FSA and European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) accept that some hemp extracts – such as seeds – are not a Novel Food.

Mislabelling Is A Criminal Offence 

In a statement to BusinessCann the FSA said: “Only those non-novel products, such as hemp seed oil, will be allowed to be sold after March 31, 2021 without a validated application.”

In relation to the pathway proposed by CannaPro, the FSA spokesperson continued: “It will depend on the nature of the extract as to whether it is novel. All novel CBD extracts will need to have a relevant validated application to remain on sale after the end of March 2021.”

And then issued the following warning:  “It is also a business’s responsibility to ensure that a food product is safe and what it says it is. Falsely describing, advertising or presenting food is criminal offence.”

Uncertain Times For The CBD Industry?

Where does this leave the UK CBD industry? Well at this stage businesses without a Novel Food application – validated by the EFSA and the FSA before March 31, 2021 – face the likelihood of enforcement action.

This is naturally unsettling for the thousands of businesses in the CBD industry and millions of European CBD consumers.

However, Mr Reynolds believes there is still some way to go before this is fully played out.

He has had many discussions with the FSA over this issue and continues to question their understanding, saying: “I genuinely don’t think they know what they are doing, and what the products are.”

In its statement to BusinessCann the FSA says the only hemp extracts it views as not novel are ‘hemp seeds and seed oil’ – which host trace amounts of CBD.

However, a statement on the FSA’s website regarding CBD and Novel Food suggests a wider definition when saying:  “Hemp and related products, such as cold-pressed oils, are not novel because there is evidence to show a history of consumption before May 1997. This is not the case for CBD extracts.” 

Given an opportunity to clarify this the FSA reiterated their position as follows: “A novel food is one that doesn’t have a significant history of consumption before 15 May 1997, and no business or organisation has been able to demonstrate this for the CBD extracts on sale.”

Mr Reynolds added: “Even if it (the CBD as a hemp oil route) does not work, I guarantee there will still be dozens of small CBD companies doing what they are doing now and the FSA will not be doing anything about it. 

“Come March next year there will be a few token busts, but in the main it will continue to remain a grey market.”

A Second Line Of Defence For CBD Trade Groups

Securing a Novel Food authorisation is a lengthy and costly process taking at least two years and costing a business at least £200,000.

The Cannabis Trades Association and European Industrial Hemp Association, who between them represent over 1,000 CBD and hemp companies, also see the Novel Food path as an unnecessary, regulatory overreach.

They are both pursuing an Article 4 challenge to the EFSA and the FSA, which could establish that CBD, as an integral component of hemp oil, has a rich history of use over hundreds of years.

However, as the UK splits from the European Union in early 2021, the FSA says this will not offer any protection from enforcement action. 

An FSA spokesperson told BusinessCann: “If a business submits an Article 4 request, they are expected to have not placed the products on the market until an answer is formed. This is not what has happened with CBD extract products as there are hundreds of products on the market without authorisation.”

First UK Novel Food Application Submitted

This all comes as Mile High Labs became one the first UK-based CBD companies to submit a Novel Food Application to the EFSA and the FSA. 

The raw material manufacturer’s application covers its CBD isolate and CBD isolate-based finished products, and is the culmination of 10 months’ work to generate the required data to support the product’s quality, consistency and safety. 

Mile High Labs is a member of the Association for the Cannabinoid Industry and it is at the forefront of efforts to ensure its embers comply with the stipulations of the Novel Food directive. Over 40 European suppliers have so far submitted CBD dossiers validated by EFSA, it has been reported.

Hemp Oil Or CBD?

The hemp oil sold in retailers and on-line stores such as Amazon is an extract of the seeds of the Cannabis Sativa plant. Amazon’s rules prevent the sale of products containing cannabinoids such as CBD.

Hemp seeds have trace amounts of CBD and come with an array of beneficial nutrients, such as fibre, protein, vitamin E, and omega fatty acids.

CBD oil is garnered from low-THC (tetrahydocannabinol) hemp using a variety of extraction process and is found primarily in the leaves and flowers.

As well as CBD, the oil contains other cannabinoids, flavonoids and terpenes, and supports the function of our endocannabinoid system – this is a a chemical network of receptors and neurotransmitters that regulate bodily systems.

CBD oil can sell at two to three times the price of hemp seed oil as the publicity surrounding its perceived health benefits have launched it into premium product status.

CannaPro’s new advice to businesses says: Detail the CBD content in the ingredients and dosage information.

“Describe your product as a ‘whole plant oil derived from hemp (or low-THC cannabis), preserving the natural balance of compounds from the plant.”

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