What does CBD’s novel food status mean for the UK industry?

In February 2020, the UK Food Standards Agency first warned that products containing cannabidiol could be whipped off the shelves if they failed to secure novel food status by 31 March 2021. This decision didn’t come out of the blue. Rather it was aligned with the EU’s 2019 decision to add CBD extracts and isolates to its list of Novel Foods – products that were not consumed to a meaningful extent by people in Europe prior to May 1997.

With CBD already infused in an array of food and drink products, from soft drinks to sweets, the new rules and independent safety assessment aimed to establish a recognised regulatory framework for the burgeoning CBD industry.

And a standardised level of safety and quality for stockists and consumers alike.

This is about bringing the CBD industry into compliance with the law. Consumers need to be able to trust that these products are safe and are what they say they are”, FSA Chief Executive Emily Miles said in a statement.

What’s happened so far?

The March 31 deadline has come and long gone. So, let’s take a look at where we stand today. 

Despite plenty of advanced warning, the list of products with validated novel food applications published on 19 April contained just three CBD brands: Pureis, CBDex and 4MP. Pureis come in first place – after 18 months and an excess of £1.5 million invested.

Inundated with last-minute applications, the FSA agreed to allow all products with a submitted application to remain on sale. Validation and authorisation (and all that data) could be applied later. 

The time and investment made by Pureis point to the complexity of the application process, which is anything but plain sailing especially for brands with limited regulatory expertise and capital. This complexity is further highlighted by the multitude of brands that have failed to meet the deadline. Each application requires vast amounts of compositional data and analysis over five batches. 

To further muddy the waters, there was some confusion about what is actually required and from who. Do secondary suppliers also need to clear ingredients? Do these companies need to be on the supplier’s application?

The Association for the Cannabinoid Industry is a good source of reliable information and provides support for its members. For example, the ACI partnered with Advanced Development and Safety Laboratory to create a consortium to share the costs of toxicity data – upwards of £300,000 when starting from scratch. 

Their aim? Reassure the 45% of UK consumers who are not currently ‘confident’ CBD is properly labelled or tested. And they are not the only ones who see this regulation as a positive move towards transparency – according to their 2020 poll, 74% of UK consumers support the decision by the FSA to regulate the CBD market more closely.

Will CBD’s novel food status dampen growth in the UK? 

The application process has been widely publicised for nearly 18 months now. Any new brands and investors entering the market have had more than enough time to get their head around it. And they don’t seem to have been put off. In 2021, the UK CBD market will generate an estimated £690 million – far surpassing the predicted £526 million. On the contrary, many industry experts expect the new regulations to fuel growth opportunities as the tighter standards give retailers and consumers greater confidence.

With such a nascent industry and brands that are new to market, it is important that the customer has access to as much product and brand information as possible and this is one of the main reasons why mellow supports compliance with the Novel Food status, as well as partnering with the likes of GS1 and detected to increase transparency and trust,” explains James Storie-Pugh, mellow and grow by mellow co-founder.

Although the regulation is good for trust, the longer-term impacts are as yet unclear. Will smaller companies be put out of business? Will a handful of big producers supply CBD oil to a multitude of much smaller companies? Will we see the CBD market split between FSA-approved brands and other companies happy to exist in a “grey area”? 

It’s too early to say, 2021 will be an important year for CBD industry in the UK.

In the meantime, grow by mellow continues to reinforce the transparency fostered by the Novel Foods Act by combining strict brand selection criteria and tailored support to help compliant brands fully demonstrate their trustworthy credentials. 

This article was brought to you by grow by mellow – the tailored tier-based B2B service for CBD brands. More information about how we help your brand grow? Contact us.

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