Hemp tea and other herbal infusions can now be legally sold in the European Union (EU) following an agreement to amend its Novel Food regulations.
Hemp leaves, when separate from the flower, are now no longer classed as a Novel Food under EU law, permitting the sale of hemp-infused tea and tea-like products in member states.
An agreement to modify the Novel Food Catalogue was reached by EU members as part of a European Commission (EC) working group on Friday 2 June.
It’s now over four years since the EC made the controversial decision to classify all parts of the plants as Novel, meaning companies would need to apply for Novel Food status in order to legally sell cannabinoid-based products containing less than 0.3% THC in the EU.
The clarification, which has been described as a ‘significant achievement’ for the sector, comes following several months of discussion around a proposal put forward by the European Industrial Hemp Association (EIHA) in 2022.
The body’s longstanding position has been that hemp leaves are not considered Novel and should be exempt from regulations, allowing them to be authorised for marketing as traditional food for herbal infusion.
To support its request, EIHA said in a press release that it submitted evidence from several EU member states demonstrating that hemp leaves have been traditionally consumed as food, particularly as water infusions, prior to 1997.
With immediate effect, hemp leaves will now be listed as traditional foods in EU documentation and unless decided otherwise at a national level, leaves for water infusion will be allowed on the market.
The ‘Cannabis sativa L.’ entry in the EU Novel Food catalogue has been updated to include the following: “A history of consumption in the EU has also been demonstrated for the water infusion of hemp leaves (when not accompanied by the flowering and fruiting tops) consumed as such or as part of herbal infusions. Such use(s) is(are) therefore not novel.”
The amendment is in line with the 1961 UN Single Convention on Drug Use which also explicitly exempts hemp leaves.
President of EIHA, Daniel Kruse, commented: “I am delighted that the initiative we started in 2022 as EIHA has resulted in such a positive outcome. This is a significant achievement for our sector, clearly demonstrating that a collective industry effort is essential for normalising the hemp plant and its products.
“For many years, EIHA has been engaged in discussions with the EU Institutions and Member States on the Novel Food legislation. We are pleased that scientific evidence and historical facts have prevailed over prejudice.
A boost for hemp in Europe
EIHA’s managing director, Lorenza Romanese, added that this ‘legal certainty’ would bring a boost in revenue for the European hemp market.
“This is indeed very welcome news, and we are thrilled to have contributed to its realisation,” said Ms Romanese.
“These changes will bring much-needed legal certainty, eliminating any doubts surrounding the open marketing of hemp seed-derived food and leaves for water infusion throughout Europe. This will generate revenue for farmers and business operators.
She added: “We sincerely hope that this positive and constructive engagement will prevent operators in many EU countries from suffering from misleading interpretation, seizures, and unnecessary administrative requirements.”
Still awaiting further clarification
Following a proposed ban of CBD under Novel Food laws in the Czech Republic earlier this year, EIHA has launched a separate bid to have natural, hemp-extract products classified as a traditional food under Article 4 of the EC’s Novel Food regulations.
However, as it stands, companies producing synthetic CBD and isolate products, as well as full-spectrum extracts will still have to proceed with Novel Food applications.
Ms Romanese told Business of Cannabis that EIHA is also awaiting further feedback from the EC on the position of THC content in hemp seeds.
Speaking to the outlet, she said: “We sincerely hope and anticipate that this spirit of positive and constructive engagement will be reflected in the urgent need for written clarification on the measurement uncertainty relating to THC in seed products.”
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