European Commission Sets Standards for Hemp Food

A long-awaited decision begins to set the regulatory environment for the CBD food industry across the EU.

The European Commission, the regional body tasked with establishing cannabis regulations across the vertical for all EU members, has finally created guidelines for the acceptable amount of THC that can be found in commercially available food products containing CBD.

There are two of them. The first, approved by the EC’s Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed, says that THC levels for hempseed derived oil should be no greater than 7.5mg/kg. The second is that THC levels for dry foods containing hemp, such as hemp seeds themselves as well as flour and protein powder that contain them, can be no greater than 3mg/kg. 

To put this in an international perspective, Canada has established a 10mg/kg limit for both oils and dry foods. Switzerland has a limit that is double this at 20mg/kg for oils and 10mg/kg for dry products.

But what does this really mean in the world of international hemp regulations?

According to Kai-Friedrich Niermann, a German cannabis lawyer currently suing the government over regulations regarding the importation of hemp, “The decision of the European Commission was important and trend-setting for the European hemp sector. Now, for the first time, harmonized guideline values apply throughout the EU. Thus, such cases as last year in August in Germany, when there was an extensive recall of completely safe hemp products, should be a thing of the past.”

Lorenza Romanese, the Managing Director of the European Industrial Hemp Association (EIHA) the only EU-wide lobbying group with any serious muscle on the lobbying front right now agreed. “The EIHA welcomes the newly agreed levels. A flourishing market will only be an EU market based on common rules,” she said.  “Not a patchwork of 27 national legislations.”

Shifting Sands

However, all is not entirely copacetic. The EIHA is still not happy. There are several reasons for this, but most have to do with the continued uncertainty that still exists despite the pronouncement. Here is why.

Labs which do analysis for official controls and checks must comply with rules on how to determine what is known as “measurement uncertainty.” The EC has not stated what those uncertainty values are. 

Obviously, this creates an ongoing nebulousness that the new regulations have not yet solved. Namely, a product is not compliant under the regs only if it is obviously beyond the maximum level allowed plus the corresponding wiggle room. Without a declaration on what that delta is, producers will still be left to defend any measurements over the limits, even if minor ones, to the authorities.

According to the EIHA, this development “finally puts an end to the internal market fragmentation and will most likely give a further boost to the investment in the sector.”

Stakeholders will be allowed time to adjust to the new rules by selling their existing stock during a transition period. The rules will also be mandatory for all EU member states 20 days after publication of the regulation in the official journal of the EU.

Why Is This Process So Drawn Out?

There is a certain irony to the slow pace of the EC’s hemp policy. This is because, rather surprisingly given the snail’s pace of reform, the EC also has a policy stating that “hemp cultivation contributes to the European Green New Deal objectives. This includes the ability of the crop to sequester carbon, preventing soil erosion, promoting biodiversity and the cultivation of crops which need a low, if non-existent, use of pesticides. 

One of the other reasons all of this is so ironic is that France is also, by far, the largest producer of hemp in the EU (70%), followed by the Netherlands (10%) and Austria (4%). This is also the country where the most effective legal actions at the EU level have so far taken place — and further where the most ferocious battles about regulation of the industry have occurred. This includes the recent court battle to allow the sale of hemp flowers in the country, not just extracts.

However, one thing is also clear. As a result of this, it is France, not Germany which is leading the way on setting country-specific policies that are also influencing other countries, if not influencing decisions on an EU level. Indeed, Germany now has a case underway that seeks to establish the EU rules domestically and is also modelled on the Kanavape case in France.

Regardless, the days of the wild west, where hemp producers had no formal guidelines are ending. Now on to the next battle.

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