The Status of Hemp extracts in Europe

Hemp extracts

The verb “to extract” derives from the Latin word extrahere whose meaning is to “draw out” or “remove”. Therefore, it applies to any method that uses a solid, liquid or gaseous extraction agent to remove one or several components from a substance mixture (of solid, liquid or gaseous substances). Most of us consume extracts on a daily basis, think about coffee for instance.

Cannabinoids (the most abundant of which is CBD) are naturally occurring components of the industrial hemp pant (i.e., varieties with low levels of THC) and are extracted using different methods. Hemp extracts or CBD extracts can be aqueous extracts (e. g. “for beer-like beverages”), extracts by pressing, extracts produced by fat extraction (“defatted hemp seed”) or extracts produced with traditional extraction agents.

Status of hemp extracts in the European Union

Until January 2019, extracts of Cannabis sativa L. were considered novel only if the levels of cannabidiol were “higher than the CBD levels in the source Cannabis sativa L.” (former Novel Food catalogue entry l).

The EU Standing Committee for Foodstuffs already decided in December 1997 and the Commission confirmed to the European hemp industry in writing in the beginning of 1998, literally what follows:

“it was decided that foods containing parts of the hemp plant do not fall under the scope of the regulations EC 258/97” and also “that hemp flowers … are considered to be food ingredients” (e. g. used for the production of beer-like beverages)”.

Obviously, hemp flowers and leaves being parts of the hemp plant were not considered to be Novel Food.

However, in January 2019, Member States’ representatives updated the Novel Food Catalogue entry for “Cannabis sativa L.” and created a new one for “Cannabinoids”. These updates are demonstrably incorrect, based on logic and historical facts, as EIHA has repeatedly explained to Member States and the European Commission.

  • The new entry for Cannabis sativa does not mention hemp leaves and flowers, although they have been traditionally consumed as food for centuries. Hence, it is obvious that the latest changes, which seem to be hastily written, concerning the entries in the Novel Food Catalogue are not correct. Moreover, the traditionally produced hemp extracts are also missing, although preparation of such extracts has been described since the invention of the art of printing, and extraction is considered as a traditional and conventional method of food processing.
  • In the new entry for “Cannabinoids” any “extracts of Cannabis sativa and derived products containing cannabinoids are considered novel foods” without exempting those with the naturally occurring levels of cannabinoids, although they were mentioned in the previous entry formulation. Such products were already on the market and consumed before 1997 to a significant degree.

Since 2009, the EU directive 2009/32/EC clearly states that traditional extraction solvents, such as ethanol (alcohol) or CO2 (carbon dioxide), are permitted in the EU to be used in compliance with good manufacturing practice in the production of all foodstuffs, food components or food ingredients.

In simple terms, this means that when a food or food ingredient is processed through a traditional method of extraction by means of the extraction agents listed and authorised in the Directive 2009/32/EC, it remains a food or food ingredient and is not to be considered a “novel food” product.

Our position

We believe that hemp leaves and flowers as well as hemp extracts from industrial hemp with the natural content of cannabinoids, (i.e., those that do not contain “CBD isolates” or “CBD-enriched hemp extracts”) are traditional foods and do not fall under the scope of the Novel Food Regulation.

Moreover, we propose a three-tier regulation for different doses and applications of CBD. You can read more about it in our position paper “Reasonable regulation of cannabidiol (CBD) in food, supplements, medicine and cosmetics”