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If you are looking for information about CBD, you may have heard about CBD being a “novel food” in the United Kingdom and throughout Europe. What does that mean, exactly? A full explanation involves bureaucracy, history, science, and even Brexit! The end result is that the enforcement of the novel foods designation early next year will be very good news for you as a CBD consumer.
In January of 2019, the UK and the EU announced that CBD was a “novel food.” The UK has new regulations regarding CBD which go into effect on March 31, 2021. The application of the novel foods act will bring big benefits to some CBD consumers, though those who chose to shop safely already have most of the benefits.
Here we explain how the novel foods designation applies to CBD, what will happen after the March 31, 2021 deadline, and how it affects you as a consumer of CBD.
CBD, or cannabidiol, is an extract of the hemp plant (cannabis sativa), but unlike traditional cannabis, the hemp plants used to produce CBD have very little THC, which is the part of the plant which makes people high. People use CBD for stress, anxiety, pain, sleep, athletic recovery, and more. People use CBD as an oil, mixed into a lotion for application on the skin, mixed into a food, or even vape it when it’s mixed with a lung-safe oil.
To understand how CBD as an ingredient interacts with novel foods regulation in the UK, it is important to understand novel foods themselves. In the UK and continental Europe, a “novel food” is simply one which was not widely consumed in the UK or the EU before May of 1997. Why that date? Simply, that is the date regulators and EU legislators chose when they passed the acts governing them. For example, coriander seeds are not a novel food because people in the UK and Europe have been eating them for hundreds of years. By contrast, chia seeds are a novel food because even though they have been eaten in Central and South America for hundreds of years, they only became popular in the EU and the UK more recently.
Similarly, hemp seeds and the oil pressed from hemp seeds are not novel products because they were both widely used prior to 1997. CBD is a newer product, only having been specifically sought by consumers for a few years.
The other thing to know about novel foods is that the regulations apply to anything a consumer would put into the mouth. So things like tinctures and oils are covered by novel foods, even though many people don’t think of them that way. In the context of CBD, it is important to know that the novel food rules do not apply to lotions, creams and balms, CBD for vaping, suppositories or other CBD products meant to be consumed other than by ingestion.
The novel food regulations exist to protect the health of citizens. A newly introduced food has to be proven safe to consumer before marketing it can begin. For foods like the chia seeds, where hundreds of years of consumption in a different part of the world provides plenty of evidence of safety, there is an expedited process for approval. For a truly new food, the full rules apply.
When someone wants to introduce a novel food, either on its own or combined with other foods, they must make an application to do so. In the EU and the UK, applicants work through the European Commission. That will change on January 1, 2021. People in the UK who want to market a novel food will work with the UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) as they always have, but the FSA will be separate from the European Food Standards Agency. That’s very important for CBD, as you shall see in a bit. It is also useful to know that the FSA’s rule govern only England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Scotland has its own agency, Food Standards Scotland.
The application to market a novel food must describe the food and explain how it is produced, what exactly goes into it, how the food is used and the maximum levels to be consumed if applicable, and how the producer expects customers to consume the food. Producers also must explain the history of the food, it’s effects on humans, nutritional information, and more.
That is where the history and the science come in. The people at FSA review the data and information they have collected independently and make a determination whether the proposed food is safe. If that seems like a lot of work for foods with long use and few or no side effects like chia seeds and CBD, consider that many approved novel foods are genuinely new and some have never existed outside of a lab.
That is how the process normally works. It did not work that way with CBD. In the case of CBD, dozens of companies simply started selling CBD products without going through the novel food process. Some of these companies were a little shady. Others simply thought that the novel foods rules would not apply since hemp oil was not a novel food. Many new products came out before the regulators provided clarity that CBD would be considered separately from hemp oil.
The result was a large number of CBD products with no real quality controls. Many CBD products had less CBD than advertised and some had no CBD at all. The main harm is to consumers, since many of them are not getting the products they are paying for. Legitimate producers of CBD were also hurt, because they had to compete with these adulterated or even fake CBD products. At Elements of Green, we have always worked with ethical producers who lab test each of their products to ensure that you get the amount of CBD you are seeking.
All of that changes on March 31, and the changes are different in the UK and the EU, again at least partly because of Brexit. While the European Union is still struggling with its regulations, the UK has provided clarity. Any new ingestible CBD product introduced after March 31 will have to go through the novel food process before it is approved for marketing. For CBD products marketed before that date, the Food Standards Agency will allow the makers to apply for approval retroactively – they can submit an application even while the product is on the market, so long as they complete their application by December 31, 2020 and it is approved before the March 31 deadline.
The UK has also issued some consumer recommendations. The FSA recommends that healthy adults consume a maximum of 70 milligrams of CBD per day and that people who are pregnant or taking a medication avoid CBD unless they talk to a health care provider first. All of the brands we carry at Elements of Green have a daily dose below 70mg, and we have always recommended that people on medication, who are pregnant, or have other health conditions requiring medical care consult with their doctors before beginning to take CBD.
After March 31, every CBD product meant for consumption will have to have a current and approved novel food application in place in order to be offered for sale.
What that means is that when the FSA begins enforcing the novel foods designation in March, the lower-quality and fraudulent CBD products will have to be taken off the market.
The application process for a novel food designation is difficult and expensive. However, most legitimate CBD companies selling in the UK support the FSA’s move. That’s because it will help people immediately and over the long term it will help CBD become more helpful to those people.
After all, if someone purchases a product labeled as having CBD but there is really none in it, they will not receive the benefits of CBD. They will also be less inclined to use CBD in the future because they think that CBD does not work for them. Consuming CBD products with too little or no CBD is one of the main reasons that CBD does not seem to work for some people. We have an article which explains some of the other reasons someone may not be having success with CBD.
Another benefit of the novel foods regulations will be a wider product selection. There is already a wide variety of ways for people to get their CBD for ingestion. However, product innovation in the UK slowed after it became more clear that the novel foods rules would apply. Once the UK starts processing approvals for CBD foods, you can expect there to be more ways for you to consume CBD.
CBD food products will now also have more complete ingredient listings. Some CBD companies don’t inform the consumer what oils they blend with the CBD, for example. That will change with the novel foods regulations.
More CBD foods being available from only those companies willing to go through the difficult and expensive novel food application process are obviously good news for UK consumers. However, it does not mean that UK consumers of CBD products do not need to continue to shop carefully.
For one thing, the testing requirement for CBD foods in the UK will not be continuous. Once a CBD food producer does initial testing and has satisfied the Food Safety Agency that its production process is consistent, the producer need not continually produce test results to the government. Since hemp crops vary in the amount of cannabinoids and the food makers might get their raw CBD from different sources, the amount of CBD can vary from one batch of products to the next. The amount of minor cannabinoids, which help produce an “entourage effect” for many CBD users, can vary even more. It is important for UK CBD consumers to demand that the products they buy undergo periodic testing. All of the brands on Elements of Green do that testing to ensure that consumers are getting what they bargain for.
As mentioned earlier in this article, the novel foods designation does not apply to CBD which is not intended to be ingested or absorbed in the mouth. Creams and balms, vaping products, and other products are not covered. UK CBD consumers will have to keep up their care when they shop for those forms of CBD.
Perhaps most importantly, approval under the novel food regulations does not mean that a product is a good one. The novel food process is one which a food either passes or fails. Once it passes, it simply means that it is legal to market that food. Consumers will still want to rely on trusted suppliers to introduce them to the best CBD brands.
Even though UK CBD consumers will still have to shop as carefully for their CBD as they do for their other products, the formalization of the novel foods regulations next year will help create certainty among CBD users that their products are safe and they will usher in new ways to ingest CBD for their stress, anxiety, pain, sleep, and athletic recovery.