Is the Novel Food Process Really Helping the UK CBD Industry?

It is a well-known fact that hemp flowers boost the Endocannabinoid System to improve and maintain our immune and central nervous systems. In December 2020, the United Nation’s Commission on Narcotic Drugs revoked a 60-year-old ban on Cannabis, and now recognises that it does in fact have medical benefit.

The World Health Organisation even admitted that CBD is completely harmless and safe for human consumption. This decision is slowly eliminating the long-held belief that Cannabis is a dangerous narcotic. This shift in perspective is igniting a global acceptance of hemp, as an important plant for environmental and human health and wellbeing.

The UK has the largest CBD consumer market in Europe – worth over £400M and expected to hit the £1bn mark by 20251, but all CBD is sourced from abroad. UK farmers can switch to this crop easily and boost UK GDP. Yet our farmers are still restricted by outdated UK drug legislation and have to destroy the hemp flowers in the field.

It is imperative that the UK government follow suit, and recognise that low-THC Cannabis, aka Industrial Hemp, is an essential nutritional food both for humans and animals, as well as being an environmental and social catalyst for change, especially in a post-Brexit landscape.

While the UK keeps hemp crippled in its political shackles, we are unable to have a balanced and progressive discussion on what the next steps are to tackle the various existential threats we face in food production. The hemp industry is feeling this most acutely with the Novel Food applications for CBD.

The Food Standards Agency are now getting to the stage in which they can begin to potentially validate CBD products. The great risk, as the FSA grapples with this Novel Food process, is losing sight of what is actually taking place, and getting lost in the detail of a process. The question the BHA is asking is:

Is the CBD Novel Food process they are working to right for the UK, and right for UK companies and farmers alike, and not just for big pharma and corporations?

The Novel Foods process does not support the domestic green and circular economies, as it pushes small CBD producers completely out of the industry unless they are able to become part of a consortium submission. In comparison, a private UK corporation that represents the interests of 20 multinational companies has combined financial resources to take just one sample, to represent each company, in order to complete the study. At worst, the process is also creating an industry that only the big corporate companies, and pharmaceutical industries can be a part of.

The current situation with the Novel Food Applications is:
• The FSA says it has received 803 applications since January 1
• 317 have moved on to the next stage
• 4 have progressed through this Validation phase and on to Authorisation.

However, this still leaves some 486 outstanding, with the FSA confirming that 41 of these have been withdrawn. Which means that 445 applications are stuck in the process and things are not looking promising.2

We need to find a way to evolve the CBD Novel Food process so that it is ‘fit for purpose’; and prioritises UK companies and farmers, drives innovation, supports new start-ups, creates employment, and brings investment opportunities.

The CBD Novel Food process includes several parts, where extensive and costly information is required, especially the need for toxicology studies that is creating an unfair disadvantage for small growers. The Novel Food toxicological studies is tested on rats, and costs circa £300k to meet the requirements.

There are countless existing references that confirm CBD is non-intoxicating, and in reality, these toxicology reports actually have no bearing on the quality and safety of the end product e.g., History; Absorption, Distribution, Metabolism, Excretion and Allergenicity. We believe this information could be available to all through open source, thus encouraging fair competition, and a more equal playing field for all applicants.

Instead of a costly and complicated process that only benefits the big corporations and pharmaceutical industries, the focus should be on the Certificate of Analysis (COA) instead, which confirms that a regulated product meets its product specification. They commonly contain the actual results obtained from testing performed as part of quality control of an individual batch of a product.

The COA can also show tests for pesticides, solvents, microbials, heavy metals, mycotoxins and foreign matters, so toxicology testing on animals is unnecessary. To ensure standards across the industry, the lab that is undertaking the tests follows strict quality controls and should have some form of accreditation.

It is time for the UK government to remove the barriers to hemp, to allow for food security, environmental stability and high-quality hemp food production. Start recognising hemp, as an agricultural crop, within the remit of Defra, raise the THC limits to 1% to allow for better biodiversity, and to allow UK farmers to process the flowers and contribute to the domestic CBD market.

Please read our UK Hemp Manifesto to find out more and get involved.



The BHA have written a Hemp Manifesto for the UK 
please add your support so we can show the Home Office, and the regulators that we are a strong voice that needs to be heard.
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Best wishes

Nathaniel Loxley and Rebekah Shaman

The BHA is a not-for-profit company that relies solely on Membership.