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Frustrated UK CBD Sector Still Waiting For Clarity With Three-Quarters Of Novel Food Applications Having Now Failed

ATTEMPTS by the UK food quango to regulate the country’s vibrant CBD market continue to flounder leaving many in the industry ‘frustrated’.

Six months after it set its initial deadline for Novel Food compliance the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA says) that due to the ‘large amount of complex applications’ it is still processing some 213 submissions.

Since its first deadline passed at the end of March it has Validated just four companies and 43 products with these progressing to the ‘On Hold’ section of the FSA’s Public List.

While three quarters of the 800-plus CBD Novel Food applications have now been rejected the FSA is still unable to say when it will publish its final Public List of Validated CBD suppliers and products.

‘Limboland’ Leading To Companies’ Demise 

When setting a March 31 deadline for compliance to its Novel Food rules the FSA said the introduction of a ‘Public List’ of compliant companies and CBD products would help ‘clean-up’ the UK market . 

But the constant delays have left many in the industry doubting the FSA’s capabilities – and the subsequent uncertainty may lead to the demise of some CBD businesses.

CBD compliance expert Greer Deal, a Director at Global Regulatory Services, said: “Regretfully, with respect to the Public List, the FSA has over-promised and under-delivered, a trap which is all too easy to fall into.  


“It is perfectly understandable, therefore, that they’ve taken the stance to no longer commit to a deadline for the completion and publication of their Public List.  

“Regretfully, this is having a negative impact on the sector as many retailers are restricting what, and how much, they purchase because they are seeking assurance that they can purchase and sell through what they buy.

“The sector continues to operate in what feels like ‘Limboland’ for the foreseeable future which is unsettling at best and could cause the demise of numerous companies at worst.

“The question now is can companies continue to ‘hang on’ during this period of continued uncertainty with no clear end on the horizon?”  

Siân Phillips, Managing Director of the UK’s largest CBD trade group the Cannabis Trades Association, said: “There is a definite air of frustration in the food supplement cannabis sector. Retailers are waiting for this list to be made public before making a decision on which brands/products to stock.”

FSA Statements 

In February 2020 the FSA warned UK CBD companies they would not be allowed to remain on the market if they had not submitted Novel Food applications by March 31, this year.

This deadline was then pushed back to the end of April and then later to the end of June – and when pressed by BusinessCann this week the FSA said it is now ‘unable to give a date as to when this task will be complete’.

Its statement went on to say that by September there have been over 800 applications with 213 still live. 

This latest communication indicates that more companies have fallen by the wayside with 317 applications live at the end of April and 250 at the end of May.

The FSA says all of the ‘failed’ applicants have been informed with their applications either being ‘incomplete, invalid or withdrawn’.

In its statement to BusinessCann it continued: “We are still processing applications and can’t yet share a completion date for the public list.

We have received a large amount of complex applications and further correspondence has been required with applicants to get all the information needed to make a decision on validation. 

“To clarify, applicants may be eligible to be added to the ‘on hold’ part of the public list if they do not yet have results of toxicological studies, but they must have set out robust, justifiable plans to complete these studies and supply us with the results. 

“The suitability of these applications for the ‘on hold’ list are assessed on a case by case basis.”

Complex Application Process

UK Novel food compliance is a three-stage process and to date four CBD companies and 43 products have made it through the Administration step and on to the Validation phase and are now being assessed for Authorisation.

Once the final Public List is complete with the names of the Validated products and businesses UK Trading Standards will be primed to take action against the 600-plus businesses who failed to make it.

Whether Trading Standards has the bandwith to enforce this is open to debate. The whole Novel Food process has arisen out of concerns over the safety of CBD raised by the FSA’s advisors The Committee on Toxicity.

Ms Deal added: “From the outset, I have felt that the FSA seriously underestimated the size of the CBD sector not only in terms of actual raw material suppliers but also in the number of finished products on the market.

“They were definitely overly ambitious in providing deadlines for publishing the ‘on hold’ applications on the Public List as they didn’t realise that some applications would consist of literally 1,000s of finished products!”  

Ms Phillips added: “The main question now being asked is this; ‘Are all the ‘on hold’ brands/products going to be listed at the same time?’ If not, this could give commercial advantage to products/brands that are published first.”

A further fly in the ointment for the FSA and the industry is the Government’s January request to the Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs to determine an acceptable THC level for ingestible CBD products.

Depending on what level is determined then some CBD products, those carrying higher THC levels than others, may fall under a different regulatory regime such as an over-the counter medicine.

@The FSA’s stance on CBD as a Novel Food applies only to CBD food additives, not vaping products or cosmetics which are governed by separate regulations.

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