THE Food Standards Agency’s (FSA) is due to publish the final version of its public list in two weeks time, determining the fate of many UK CBD companies’ ability to continue selling in the UK.
For the hundreds of companies who have submitted applications for thousands of ingestible CBD products, the process has been slow, expensive and often frustrating.
However one CBD company, The Good Level, is continuing to sell its CBD products without inclusion on the public list, stating clearly on its website that its products are ‘novel foods exempt’ as it uses an extraction method called cold pressing.
While this may appear to be a handy workaround for the swathes of CBD businesses who have been unable to afford a novel foods application, numerous experts have warned BusinessCann that this could be shaky ground.
Some suggested that cold pressing exists in a grey area of regulation that the FSA is expected to clarify and clamp down on in the future, while others believed efforts to circumvent novel foods were damaging for the industry at large.
The Good Level
The Good Level is one of a number of companies selling ingestible CBD products which are produced via cold-pressing techniques in the UK.
Since it began trading in April 2021, the brand has opened a physical retail store in London’s Notting Hill, and also sells its products online via its own ecommerce site.
In April this year, it launched a new 5% CBD oil, retailing for £120, which it says ‘only uses extra virgin olive oil’ and hemp ‘from a British farm where it’s organically grown without the use of pesticides’.
“CBD has exploded in popularity in recent years, and most products are classed as “novel foods”, under UK and European Union regulations. However, because cold-pressed CBD uses the most natural extraction process possible, it is not labelled novel,” the company said in its most recent press release.
Its Co-Founder Joe Dobbs explained to BusinessCann: “We do encourage the greater regulation of the industry but have certainly seen the benefits in circumventing the convoluted process by being able to focus the majority of our teams’ time on CBD. However, this wasn’t the reason why we went for fully cold pressed production.
“Ultimately, a cold press is a natural process, used for thousands of years with very little heat and no chemicals or solvents, creating a true reflection of the hemp plant. It is my personal belief of the growing understanding of the entourage effect and the associated benefits of heat sensitive terpenes, that are nurtured within a cold press, the method has many advantages.”
The most common method of producing CBD oil is via supercritical CO2 extraction, which involves heating CO2 to a state where it is both a liquid and a gas, then using this as a solvent to extract the cannabinoids from plant material.
It is efficient, and allows manufacturers to separate individual compounds during the extraction process, enabling greater control over the levels of CBD and THC in oils.
Other manufacturers, such as Love Hemp, cold press hemp flowers to produce some of their products as it yields ‘a resin that contains all major and minor cannabinoids, alongside some other beneficial botanical compounds including terpenes and flavonoids.’
While the process retains more of these substances which are believed to add to the ‘entourage effect’, it provides no ability to control levels of CBD and THC.
Mr Dobbs explained: “We do not control levels, we simply use EU licensed strains which already comply and as our resulting oils are a true reflection of the original hemp plant, we are compliant by default.”
Where does cold-pressed CBD stand legally?
BusinessCann asked the FSA whether cold pressed oils which contain the same levels of CBD and THC as products currently in the novel foods process were classed as exempt.
It said: “Hemp and related products, like cold-pressed oils, are not novel because there is evidence to show a history of consumption before May 1997. This is detailed in the EU catalogue, as is the novel food status of CBD products.
“The CBD products we are dealing with as novel foods are extracted so the composition is likely to be different to that by cold compression. Often the CBD content is deliberately concentrated, hence the differences.
“Companies are responsible for checking that any products they sell are novel. Advice on hemp products is included in our business guidance on CBD but if companies are unsure if a food they sell is novel, they can check with our novel foods team for confirmation.”
According to Kyle Esplin, Co-founder of Holistic Highland Hemp and chair of the Scottish Hemp Association, terminology is vital when considering this issue.
He explained: “The FSA would assume that ‘cold pressing hemp’ means hempseed. We have to keep in mind the terminology, in the UK ‘hemp‘ means ‘seeds or stalk from an approved low-THC cannabis variety’. The UK does not recognise low-THC cannabis flowers as ‘hemp’”.
UK law currently requires all of the flower and leaves of hemp plants, from which CBD is extracted, to be destroyed, allowing only the seeds and stems to be turned into products like hemp oil, which have very low levels of CBD.
Numerous sources have told BusinessCann that it would be effectively impossible to extract oil with a 5% CBD concentration from seeds and stems, and that this can only be achieved via a whole flower press.
Mr Esplin added that anything that is not considered traditional hemp oil, made only from hemp seeds, is likely to be a novel food.
The Good Level’s Mr Dobbs said in response to questions around exactly what it presses to produce its oils: “What we press completely depends upon the country, license, and the parts of plant/strain available. Within the UK, the majority of licenses state that the controlled parts of the plant must be destroyed, but that depends on the license.
“We comply with whatever local license a farmer has been approved to operate within by HM government. We can’t disclose specifics of independent farming licenses as it’s not our information to disclose unfortunately.”
When asked specifically about cold compressing the flower, the FSA said: “A food product made from cold pressing hemp flower is not novel if the business can provide proof the production process is cold compressed. Companies are responsible for checking that any products they sell are novel. They can apply through the Article 4 consultation process for formal confirmation of the status of their product.”
‘Selective Nature of CBD Concentration’
Furthermore, a key part of whether the FSA considers something a novel food is understood to be the ‘selective nature of CBD concentration’.
According to Mr Esplin, ‘from the interpretation of novel foods regulation the UK was handed, it is thought the ‘selective nature of the CBD concentration’ in such a product would still make it a novel food, regardless of the extraction technique.
“We have 2000ppm CBD for hemp seed oil in history, but 5% is 50000ppm… When I ran the cold pressing method past Food Standards Scotland, although they don’t have any deadlines for enforcement, they have the same official interpretation as was handed over by Europe.
“They say that from their interpretation these cold pressed products would not be exempt from novel food because, although the technique of pressing is exempt, they are pressing the flower, and that’s not what’s documented in history. So Food Standards Scotland’s analysis was that although the extraction method is exempt, the final product is not exempt.”
He added that he expected this ‘workaround’, and regulatory grey area to be clarified by the FSA in time, but that ‘it’s a potentially messy space to get sorted’.
The Cannabis Trades Association’s believe that rather than offering CBD companies a way around the cumbersome novel foods process, this could in fact encourage the FSA to crack down harder on the industry.
“This sort of work around is kind of kicking a hornet’s nest. The thing is, they’re actually not helping the industry. The industry at the moment is in trouble. So the more of this that goes on, the more enforcement will happen across the industry quickly, and we really really need to avoid that happening.”