Novel Foods – Dishonesty, Backstabbing, Scaremongering, Confusion – The Debacle Continues

The rumour mill is swirling again.  It started with gossip at the recent Europe CBD Expo and Mike Harlington’s latest effort to intimidate businesses into joining or renewing with the CTA.  Also, the Centre of Medicinal Cannabis (CMC) has made a clumsy attempt at manipulating the market with ‘research’ that shows its products are OK but others are fake, illegal or a rip-off.

The most worrying rumours are of a crackdown on the CBD market using the novel food classification to remove products from sale and close down businesses.  Be reassured, there is no prospect of anything like this happening at least until after Brexit is settled.  We can’t exclude the possibility of a trading standards official ‘going rogue’ but nothing is going to happen on a widespread basis at least until after Brexit.  It’s important to realise though that it’s very much in the interests of the parties already mentioned to stoke up and inflame these rumours.  They’ve done it before. It’s a tactic that defines their business methods and ethical standards.

It’s also clear that a number of players in the CBD market are applying for novel food authorisation in an attempt to gain a competitive advantage.  Of course, what should be happening is that the industry should be standing together to resist this groundless and pointless intervention from a self-serving bureaucracy.  There’s no purpose in this novel foods initiative except for the bureaucracy to take control of the market but of course it will benefit big business most of all.

The assertion that cannabis extracts are ‘novel’ is patently false as is the idea that there are any food safety implications in low THC extracts, providing that the cultivation, extraction and processing is carried out to reasonable standards. The reality is that the EU is rejecting, without valid reason, all the evidence put before it that demonstrates  extracts were consumed prior to 1997.

Over all of this hovers the uncertainty of Brexit.  It’s certainly a difficult and unsettling time for all those in the CBD business.  CannaPro has taken a number of steps, primarily in  the interests of our certified businesses but for the industry as a whole.

Our solicitor’s letter to the FSA has drawn a line in the sand. If any enforcement action is taken against any CannaPro certified business then those responsible face immediate and severe legal consequences. Any certified business should contact CannaPro urgently if they face any enforcement action and we will act immediately, calling in lawyers if necessary.

CannaPro met with the FSA this week to establish whether anything has changed and whether it is planning any action on enforcement. It confirms that its position remains the same, that is: “We are committed to finding a proportionate way forward by working with local authorities, businesses and consumers to clarify how to achieve compliance in the marketplace in a proportionate manner.”

That said, the FSA’s position is that although inclusion in the novel food catalogue “serves as orientation on whether a product will need an authorisation under the Novel Food Regulation”, it considers that the legal status of cannabis extracts is that they are novel foods. This is the FSA’s opinion.  CannaPro disagrees and the only way this could be determined is by a court.  However, trading standards officers do have the right to enter premises and seize products which they consider to be unlawful and they could rely on the listing in the novel food catalogue to show they were acting reasonably.  All that really matters in practice is whether enforcement action takes place.

The FSA confirmed that it has not yet issued any enforcement advice to local authorities and it is still considering what that advice should be.  It confirmed that it will notify CannaPro prior to issuing such advice, in which case we would, of course, notify certified businesses.

The crucial issue is that the FSA is considering the full range of options from advising no enforcement at all to total enforcement and the seizure of all products. It states that its advice will not be at either of these two extremes. It hinted that it may take the view that products already on the market may be unaffected and it would only advise enforcement against new products.  CannaPro has offered a compromise where we would verify all certified businesses’ existing products as compliant with legal and quality standards and these would be excluded from any enforcement action.  This is a solution that the FSA is considering and we have every reason to believe it is discussing the same idea with the CTA.

Any suggestion that the CTA is the only organisation that such an arrangement could be made with is nonsense.  It is just the usual Harlington bluster and exaggeration which he uses to pressurise businesses to sign up or renew their membership.

The only other observation to make is that the FSA is extremely defensive. It seems oblivious to the imminent prospect of Brexit and as with the entire civil service and government bureaucracy, it is wedded to the EU. Any question as to what happens after Brexit has no real answer.  It simply plans to carry on.  In fact, of course, we will then be in a whole new world and subject to any transitional arrangements, if the FSA wants to continue bullying CBD businesses, it is going to have find the time and resources itself and won’t be able to rely on its former masters in Brussels.

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