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UK regulates cannabinoid food market


The UK government is taking certain steps to ensure the competitive advantage of CBD sellers in the domestic market compared to the EU “regulated” market and to improve the quality of plant products on the shelves of retail and wholesale stores.

The UK has taken the path to regulating the cannabinoid-based food sales system, drawing on similar experiences from Canada, Australia and the United States. The main requirement for manufacturers is the preparation of permits, the first stage of which is the submission of an application for a safety analysis of products containing various therapeutic components of hemp. It is expected that the result of such analyzes will be the conclusion about the possibility of selling food products containing drug-free cannabinoids (primarily cannabidiol) for consumption by various categories of the population. Thus, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) of Great Britain recommends the development of a standard for the dosage of various types of non-drug cannabinoids of plant origin in food, as well as the mandatory warning of pregnant women and nursing mothers about abstinence from using such products. 

According to a FSA announcement, applications for authorization of hemp products containing non-drug cannabinoids must be submitted before March 2021. The new British food regulations stipulate that after March 31, 2021, only groups of products or individual products that “have passed the appropriate procedure and received documents confirming the safety of products containing plant cannabinoids for people will be allowed on the market.” During the current 2020, products containing drug-free cannabinoids, including cannabidiol, can remain on sale only if they meet the following criteria:

- contain on the package full information about all the components contained in the product;

- safe for consumption;

- do not contain hazardous substances regulated by the current regulatory framework of the country.

The above steps indicate that the UK, which has recently withdrawn from the European Union, plans to only partially follow the rules in the field of food products containing non-drug cannabinoids, regulated by the relevant EU Directive. Being in the EU, British government officials in 2019 repeatedly stated that, according to the above EU legal act, extracts of drug-free cannabinoids cannot be sold as a food ingredient without prior permission for safety because this category of goods belongs to the category “new food products” ".

A significant number of UK hemp market experts believe that the above procedure will allow producers and consumers to use clear rules of the game on the market, which ultimately will positively affect the dynamics of consumption and distribution of products, which include various kinds of hemp extracts. The negative side for manufacturers of finished products made from hemp plants is that the claimed verification procedure for their products containing drug-free cannabinoids of plant origin will be quite expensive. According to some estimates, the total cost of going through all the stages of obtaining permits will require more than a million pounds. 

It should be noted that the current actions of the FSA are significant for the development of modern hemp breeding in the UK and that as a result, this will lead to a change in the licensing and management regime in the field of industrial hemp breeding in the country. At the same time, it is important to understand that these rules do not apply to the production of cosmetics manufactured using hemp ingredients, smoking mixtures, hemp raw materials for the production of medicines, other groups of goods, the presence of which on the market is regulated by other regulatory documents. 

According to Nate Erskine, chief analyst at an information and consulting company that regularly analyzes the hemp industry, the food market for natural cannabidiol in the UK with a volume of $ 374 million is the most dynamic compared to similar European markets. Its turnover is expected to reach $ 1.3 billion by 2025.

Recent polls show that European consumers widely support the distribution of product lines containing drug-free cannabinoids, especially consumers in the UK and neighboring Ireland. In particular, surveys show that 78% of respondents in the UK and Ireland say they heard about hemp products, while 59% support measures aimed at regulating this market. Analysts are inclined to conclude that the proposed measures to regulate the market for hemp products will increase the confidence of all consumer groups in products made from plants, and will also create conditions for the use of these commodity items even by people who have not previously decided to use hemp products. 

A number of specialized hemp associations in Europe welcomed the FSA initiative to establish standards for food products containing non-drug cannabinoids, but emphasizes that hemp products with a low content of cannabidiol in their composition should not be classified as “new food products”. They must be allowed to be sold on the market according to more loyal rules than those prescribed by the above EU directive. For example, representatives of the European Industrial Hemp Association (EIHA) say they plan to file a joint application for a new permit for food products that include cannabidiol, which would meet both the UK regulatory framework and the requirement European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

A similar position is taken by the British Association of CBD Products Traders (a non-profit organization with approximately 1,100 members and 5,000 retailers from 23 EU member states, as well as the United States and Canada). The above structure states that it welcomes the efforts of the UK government to create new requirements for food products containing non-drug cannabinoids, but claims that uninsulated and non-synthetic CBD products should not fall within the scope of the EU Directive classifying them as “new food products”.

A huge number of manufacturers focus on the fact that according to the conclusions of the World Health Organization made in July 2018, cannabidiol and its derivatives are safe for general consumption and are actively used both for treatment and prevention of various diseases. 

Commentary by the Ukrainian Technical Hemp Association

The UK has been actively involved in the process of regulating the food market containing various hemp derivatives, which will ultimately lead to the strengthening of the legal market and “leaving unscrupulous players from it”. The UK government is taking certain steps to ensure the competitive advantage of CBD sellers in the domestic market compared to the EU's “regulated” market and to improve the quality of plant products on the shelves of retail and wholesale stores. 

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