UK refusal to postpone CBD deadline ‘baffling’ amid coronavirus pandemic, says lobby group

By Flora Southey contact

- Last updated on GMT

©GettyImages/aedkais
©GettyImages/aedkais

Related tags: CBD, Cannabidiol

The Cannabis Trades Association has criticised the Food Standards Agency’s refusal to postpone its CBD novel foods deadline, describing the move as ‘unsympathetic’ to businesses in the sector.

In the UK, the CBD industry is preparing for the Food Standards Agency’s (FSA) novel foods deadline. By 31 March 2021, products yet to commence the application process will be removed from shelves.

Yet industry lobby group the Cannabis Trades Association believes the coronavirus pandemic, and consequent disruptions experienced by industry, is cause for an extension.

Therefore, on 31 March this year, the CTA requested the FSA push back the deadline. The FSA has since issued its response: ‘the deadline as previously set out by the FSA remains’.

Economic concerns amid lockdown

For the CTA, the issue is threefold. Firstly, the lobby group argues that the economic impact on industry caused by the coronavirus pandemic warrants an extension.

“The simple fact is that our members have staff furloughed and of course staff in labs and other service industries to the industry are also on lockdown,”​ CTA chair Mike Harlington told FoodNavigator.

“As such, scientific data is crucial to getting a validated product.  If you can’t get the evidence, how can you submit?”

Having submitted its request late March, the CTA’s negative response came through 9 April: “The FSA has not received any evidence in support of the suggestion that recent events with COVID-19 has rendered CBD businesses incapable of formulating novel food applications to the appropriate standard to meet next year’s deadline.

“This view is additionally in the context of the background to CBD extracts and the fact that CBD businesses have already had well over a year and have just under a further year to progress novel food applications; a total of two years.”

Several CBD businesses have and are building their applications aiming towards the March 2021 deadline, the regulator continued, with some companies having already submitted initial applications.

The CBD Novel Foods lowdown

In January 2019, the European Commission added extracts of cannabis sativa L – including CBD – to the Novel Food Catalogue.

This means that in Europe, CBD products require pre-market authorisation from the European Food Standards Agency (EFSA). Authorisation requires the completion of a full scientific dossier demonstrating safety.

Late 2019, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) confirmed the UK also considers CBD a novel food, and by mid-February 2020, the regulator had set a deadline: the CBD industry must apply for Novel Food approval by 31 March 2021, or products will be removed from shelves.

The CTA refutes the regulator’s suggestion that CBD businesses have not been sufficiently hindered by the COVID-19 outbreak, describing the FSA’s statement as ‘demonstrably incorrect’.

“We find the FSA’s position on this to be quite baffling, unsympathetic, and unaligned with all government departments at this moment of national and international crisis.”

A refusal to extend the deadline could see companies potentially fail in the future, when they do not have the time to fulfil the requirements for novel foods, the trade group continued.

Administrative lags?

Economic disruptions aside, the CTA also raised concerns the FSA is falling short on its administrative duties.

In January, the regulator advised that the UK would have its own registration portal. “As yet, there simply isn’t one,” ​the CTA Chair told this publication.

Thirdly, the trade association takes issue with the FSA’s decision concerning EU-registered products. According to the regulator, products registered in the EU will not automatically be granted the same registration in the UK.

“How are you supposed to submit, especially when the FSA says that products registered in Europe will not automatically be added to the UK list?” ​Harlington queried.

The CTA’s Chair told FoodNavigator the lobby group will ‘of course’ continue to pressure the FSA ‘in a number of ways’, adding that “public pressure is, of course, a far more important part of this”.

From the FSA's standpoint, the regulator has been transparent regarding the availability of its registration portal. "Regarding the registration, we have information on our website​ that a regulated products service (and portal) will be made available after the EU transition period (from 1 January 2021)," ​noted the FSA.

"Until that time, information for CBD businesses applying for authorisation is available on our website.​ Information for businesses on applying for authorisation during the transition period is available on our CBD business guidance page​."

The regulator also wished to clarify the position on registration of regulated products in the UK, including novel foods: "This refers to arrangements that will apply after the EU transition period. Details on new regulated products authorisations, existing authorisations and ongoing applications after 1 January 2021 are available on our website​."

Article updated 4 May 2020 to include comment from the Food Standards Agency.

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