Cefyn Jones, a prominent CBD industry commentator and founder of cannabis agency Hemphound, is calling on the industry to pull together in preparation for a novel foods review which he believes could result in a report which favours the pharma industry, to the obliteration of food supplement companies.
Following the government commitment to a Novel Foods Review, the FSA issued an invitation to tender for the ‘Novel Foods Regulatory Framework Review’ in early October 2022. The FSA awarded US auditing firm, Deloitte, the contract, with their report set to be complete in just five days (1st March).
The worry, as far as Jones and others in the industry are concerned, is that Deloitte has a number of clients with an interest in the CBD pharma space, which they argue creates a potential conflict of interest.
The most notable client is GW/Jazz Pharmaceuticals, who have a number of patents on several parts of the cannabis plant and are currently funding global research into CBD and psychosis.
Other notable clients include Associated British Foods, Proctor and Gamble, GlaxoSmithKline, and Pfizer.
Ultimately, if the commentator’s concerns come true, the review could lead to a further clamp down on CBD supplements and foods to the point where companies cannot trade.
“There’s so much medical potential in this plant, it will be studied for years but it was a food before it was a medicine and that is being taken away from us.
“We need to get people interested and we need to move quickly to come up with some way of saying ‘hey this is our space, stop encroaching’. We need to come up with good lines as to where pharma sit and where food companies sit and can co-exist without stomping on each other’s toes.”
Noting that most brands understandably want to keep their heads down at the moment, Jones adds: “I had a CBD business in 2016 and I have often thought to myself how I would feel if I was still running that business today. I would be scared and I might be considering packing it in. But that attitude doesn’t help, and neither does sticking your head in the ground.”
Speaking about the current global trial on CBD and psychosis, Jones notes that it will most likely conclude with very favourable results but this will likely provide the firm further ammo to remove all competition in this space.
CBD regulatory expert and consultant Stephen Oliver, founder of The Canna Consultants, backs Jones’ concerns, saying he can undoubtably understand the fear induced by this review.
“We have to talk in realities and the reality here is we expect a company who has spent millions on securing patents, to want to protect those patents, they will not want someone selling the same ingredients in a product on Amazon for a fraction of the price.”
Speaking about why the FSA is conducting this review in the first place, Oliver notes that the novel food application process for CBD companies has been confusing, to say the least, thus far.
“The problem we have is that the FSA did not anticipate the avalanche of applications for CBD products, they didn’t staff it correct, or stagger it correctly. There are issues with criteria – different people are being gauged in different ways, different officers were asking different questions.”
Discussing his view of the future of the CBD food and supplement market, Oliver adds there is definitely a way in which food and pharma can both play in this space.
“If you take caffeine – it’s a medicine and a food – so there is a route.
“I think there will be a supplementary market but I think there will be no health claims what-so-ever, and THC allowance will be 0%, and I think there will be stipulation for manufacturing at a standard that exceeds that which is achievable by current producers.”
Both commentators also say they could not find any mention of the announcement of the tender award until last week (14th Feb).
Jones is hosting an industry poll on this tender on his website, gaining reaction from brands and other companies that could be impacted by the review. He says the resulting findings reveal the industry is pretty much unanimously concerned about his suggested risk of bias. He believes these poll results could be of use if the industry needs to fight the incoming novel foods review findings.
Responding to Jones’ concerns, Brianna Halstead-Cashman, the FSA’s head of innovation and regulatory reform, said: “Following the public government commitment to a Novel Foods Review in the publication of The Benefits of Brexit Paper, an invitation to tender for the external Novel Foods Regulatory Framework Review launched in early October 2022 and closed in November 2022. Several applications were received and were evaluated in line with Regulation 67 of the Public Contracts Regulations, against set commercial and technical criteria with Deloitte being the Most Economically Advantageous Tender.
“The review will critically evaluate the current Novel Food Regulatory Framework (based on Novel Food Retained EU Legislation) and identify opportunities for potential reform. The review will consider the national and international regulatory landscape, and present potential options for a Novel Foods Regulatory Framework assessing the benefits, limitations, risks, opportunities, resource, and time implications as well as the impact on industry and consumers. The options presented in the output report will support the Food Standards Agency’s internal thinking for potential reform of the regulatory framework for novel foods.
“CBD applications are just one sector of novel foods; we were committed to review the novel foods legislation upon leaving the EU to optimise the balance of encouraging GB food chain innovation and food safety expectations.”
Halstead-Cashman adds that the FSA is required to publish a copy of the contract and contract details on the transparency site Contracts Finder within 30 calendar days of the contract award date.
Novel foods are any food that don’t have a significant history of consumption in the UK before May 1997. Novel foods need to be authorised before they can be placed on the market in Great Britain. The Novel Foods Framework is the legislative requirements relating to the authorisation of these products
EU Food Law continues to apply in Northern Ireland, under the current terms of the Northern Ireland Protocol. Only novel foods authorised by the European Commission may be placed on the Northern Ireland market. Under the provisional Common Framework for Food and Feed Safety and Hygiene, Northern Ireland continues to fully participate in the risk analysis processes concerning food and feed safety
The Government commitment to the Novel Foods Review is referenced in The Benefits of Brexit Paper (HM Government, January 2022: Page 63)