Confusion continues for the CBD Market

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has reduced the daily limit for CBD in new precautionary advice from 70mg to 10mg per day, citing potential long term risk to liver and thyroid issues

However, the recommendation is only advisory, and regulators are not requesting that any products are taken off shelves.

CBD is a chemical found naturally within the cannabis plant, it has only very recently been removed and sold as a separate CBD extract. CBD extracts can be found in a range of products such as oils, confectionery, bakery products and drinks.

CBD was classed by the FSA as a “novel” food, in January 2019 and all CBD food products were required to apply for authorisation before they could be sold legally in Great Britain.  Novel foods are foods and/or ingredients that were not consumed to a significant degree by humans in the UK or EU before 15 May 1997. This action left a growing market without clear guidance on its approach to enforcement and led to significant confusion for operators in the CBD.

In February 2020 (and refined further in March 2021), the FSA confirmed the basis of eligibility to avail of the ‘existing product on the market’ exception.  This was where CBD products already on the market in England and Wales would be permitted to remain there, pending full scientific assessment by the FSA and receipt of full authorisation from a novel foods’ perspective.  Eligibility for this exception required proof of being on the market as of 13 February 2020 and receipt by the FSA of an application (prior to 31 March 2021), which is subsequently validated.

This exception re the ‘novel food’ product marketed prior to 13 February 2020 was confirmed to relate to the entire finished product (food + CBD) rather than solely the CBD component contained therein  ie a food product such as a confectionary snack not sold prior to 13 February 2020 would not be permitted use of the fast-track and would need to await full authorisation before being sold on the market. This was even if it contained a CBD component which had been used on the market prior to 13 February 2020 and after that date.

All products awaiting authorisation, which have a credible application in with the FSA, can be viewed on the FSA's public list of CBD products .  There are currently no specifically authorised CBD extracts or isolates on the market. Manufacturers and suppliers of products on this public list may continue to produce and sell their products to the public while the FSA undertakes a full assessment as part of the authorisation process.

The list is split into two sections that are made up of products associated with applications which either:

  • have been validated
  • are on hold ‘awaiting evidence’, whereby applicants have yet to supply all the information needed to continue on in the process 

Validation is the first stage of the novel foods process. Validation does not mean that these products are authorised novel foods and confirmed as safe for consumption, only that businesses have provided the FSA with adequate information to progress their application.

The FSA makes clear it cannot endorse the safety of such products until such time that it has completed its assessment. Nor is there any guarantee that following their assessment, they will be authorised. Consumers are therefore advised to refer to the list of products, but to also exercise their judgement bearing in mind that their safety has not yet been assessed.

In relation to the latest updated guidance the FSA said there was “no acute safety risk” with consuming more than 10mg of CBD a day based on the data it had assessed. However above this level, and over a period of time, “there is evidence of some adverse impacts on the liver and thyroid”.

The FSA continues to advise that CBD is not taken by people in vulnerable groups, including children, people taking medication (who have not consulted a medical professional) and those who are pregnant or breastfeeding and those trying to conceive.

The updated advice has been based on the average lifetime exposure to food products containing CBD, such as drinks, oils, sweets, bakery items or drops.

Holland & Barrett removed CBD products from sale where “customers cannot choose to only use 10mg a day” following the FSA’s decision to slash its recommended daily maximum dosage of the product.  The health food retailer said the temporary measure had been made “in an abundance of caution” .

“Whilst it remains legal for these products to remain on sale, we are acting in an abundance of caution and are temporarily withdrawing some products where customers cannot choose to only use 10mg a day.

“This is a temporary measure so we can make sure we are giving our customers the latest guidance across our website product descriptions."

In total, 31 products have been removed from sale online and in store, Holland & Barrett said.

Other retailers including Tesco and Waitrose referred to the British Retail Consortium, which said its members would ”follow any and all FSA advice on the sale of products containing CBD oil, and take their obligations around these products very seriously”.

The removal of legally marketed products by retailers on the back of ‘guidance’ provided by the FSA should be of concern to all food producers. Whilst guidance on diets and health should be used to inform the consumer the restriction of products legally placed on the market is a worrying trend and it is hoped that this ‘temporary’ removal is reversed by retailers.   

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