ANH-Intl’s founder and scientific director gave a keynote presentation at the highly acclaimed Food Integrity conference, once again forced online by current events. The subject was ‘Novel Foods and Trends’ and Dr Verkerk went on to moderate a panel on CBD.
Highlights of Dr Verkerk’s keynote are summarised here:
The UK hones its own risk assessment, risk management and authorisation system for novel foods, relying for the time being on scientific guidance developed in conjunction with the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)
Of 139 applications made to the EU to-date, 17 have been for micronutrients, 14 for plant foods, 13 for human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs), 12 for plant extracts and 12 for edible insects (see Fig. 1)
Figure 1. Summary of novel food applications in the European Union up to April 21, 2021 (Data source: European Commission).
CBD has been the most rapidly growing natural product category in recent times, with CBD becoming a common ingredient in health, cosmetic and vaping products
EFSA’s decision to regard all natural and synthetic cannabinoids as novel foods or ingredients in January 2019 put a massive brake on the industry, so impacting innovation and consumer choice. This was despite natural cannabinoids or cannabimimetics having been consumed safely in a variety of foods and herbal products including hemp oil, Echinacea, black truffles, and cacao for decades, albeit in smaller amounts
Cannabinoids are also generated internally and interact with the endocannabinoid system with CB1 and CB2 receptors widely distributed through our bodies. We produce cannabinoids internally (endocannabinoids) when we engage in certain rhythmic exercises like walking, jogging, cycling or swimming and they appear to activate the senses, reduce negative stress responses and improve cellular communication
While some EU countries like France were starting to crackdown on CBD claiming it was narcotic, despite it having no psychoactivity, a ruling by the European Court in May 2020 (Case C-663/18) found that the French decree of 22 August 1990, which limited the cultivation, industrialisation and marketing of hemp solely to fibre and seeds, amounted to a restriction that was not in accordance with EU law. That opened the door, up until....
The European Commission paused the processing of applications for novel foods in July 2020 because it believed, along with a number of EU member state governments, that CBD, as an extract of cannabis, should be regarded as a narcotic substance based on the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961
In December 2020, the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs did a U-turn and removed cannabis from the narcotics schedule, 59 years after it had been added. It also stated that CBD extracts containing less than 2% of the psychotropic component THC should not be subject to international controls
The UK has potentially become a safe harbour for CBD products, assuming novel food applications for CBD are accepted. It upheld that products sold before 14 February 2020 with validated applications submitted before 31 March 2021 should be able to be legally on sale until authorisation is determined
So far, applications for only 23 products have been validated by the Food Standards Agency, the UK authority responsible for foods. These were submitted by just 3 companies, Chanelle McCoy Health (Ireland), Cannabis Pharma (Czech) and Health Innovations (UK). Up to 1000 applications are thought to have been submitted prior to the 31 March 2021 deadline
A major conundrum remains for cannabinoids in the UK and EU, especially around how to reduce trade barriers while maintaining consumer safety and trust, while also encouraging smaller businesses that have for years been the bedrock for innovation in the natural products industry
Applications for synthetic CBD (4 of which are already approved) and CBD isolates will be considerably more straight forward than those for full spectrum extracts, given the complexity of the latter. This creates a bias towards forms that deviate more from the natural forms of cannabinoids to which humans have been exposed during our evolution.
Panel discussion – The Rise of Cannabis, CBD and Hemp
Dr Verkerk then went on to moderate a panel of experts, comprised of the following 4 experts:
Dr Prof Hans Verhagen, Owner and founder, Food Safety & Nutrition Consultancy, ex- NDA panel member, EFSA
Dr Parveen Bhatarah, Regulatory and Compliance Lead, Association for the Cannabinoid Industry (ACI)
Lorenza Romanese, Managing Director, European Industrial Hemp Association (EIHA)
Dr Ignazio Garaguso, RSL, PerkinElmer
Like ourselves at ANH-Intl, we consider the view of the European authorities that all cannabinoids are novel, to be wrong, a view also taken by Lorenza Romanese of the EIHA. This definition should be limited to synthetic cannabinoids and CBD and other cannabinoid isolates, that are not found in their isolated form in nature.
The CBD industry has not taken the novel food challenges for cannabinoids lying down. Two important developments that may have a big impact on the long-term availability of CBD products in the UK and subsequently in the rest of Europe are as follows:
The ACI based in the UK has created a consortium that has submitted a master application for CBD to the UK’s FSA in February
The 300 or so members of the Brussels-based EIHA have also formed a consortium of hemp farmers, producers and traders who have also submitted applications to the FSA, both for a natural CBD isolate and for a full spectrum extract.
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