Hemp sativa and herbal teas, ABC


Hemp sativa, foods and herbal teas. Italy has been prominent in the his crops, second only to the Soviet Union, until the last century. Unfortunately ignoring, until a few decades ago, its virtuous nutritional properties. And just now that the Cannabis Sativa and its derivatives emerge in international markets, the domestic supply chain risks becoming entangleda in legal uncertainty. A summary, theABC.

Hemp sativa for food use, the European regulatory environment

The European Commission has already recognized the well-established presence of hemp on the old continent. Not onlyin cosmetics and traditional pharmacopoeia, but also among commonly used foods. Just think of the seeds


hempoil and hemp flour, to which numerous studies attribute the role of ‘



In the European Union, the cultivation of Cannabis sativa L varieties is granted provided they are registered in the EU‘s ‘Common Catalogue of Varieties of Agricultural Plant Speciesand the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content does not exceed 0.2 % of the plant. Without prejudice to other legal requirements concerning the consumption of hemp (Cannabis sativa) and hemp products, Regulation (EU) 2015/2283 on novel foods is not applicable to most foods and food ingredients from this plant.(European Commission)

It must therefore rule out the application of the NovelFoods Regulation to the ‘vast majority of foods and food ingredients‘ that are derived from this plant, according to the Brussels warning. The threshold of 0.2 percent THC-i.e., the tolerable limit of psychoactive substance-had already been introduced, come to think of it, back in the year 2000 (via reg. EC 2860/00, referring to the fiber hempvariety ). And it has recently been confirmed under the Common Agricultural Policy (reg. EU 639/14, as amended by reg. EU 1308/13, Annex X).

Food safety authorities of several European countries-including Germany, Belgium and Switzerland-have in turn set prudent THC limits on various food matrices derived from cannabis (e.g., seeds, oil, flour, herbal tea). Following scientific risk assessments adopted by institutions, such as the German BfR, known for their particularly conservative approaches.

The principle of mutual recognition
, which the EU Court of Justice introduced with the landmark ‘
Cassis de Dijon
‘, prohibits member states from hindering the movement of food placed on the domestic market through other countries, subject to common law. Where, on the other hand, the national authority intends to restrict the marketing of products (e.g., herbal teas) authorized elsewhere, it will have to demonstrate the inadequacy of the risk assessment made by the authority in another member country and substantiate its decisions in terms of concrete public health protection needs.

Hemp for food use, the situation in Italy

La Law 242/2016 expressly refers to ‘hemp for the agribusiness supply chain, with maximum THC levels established as early as the cultivation stage. 0.2, with a margin of tolerance up to 0.6 and non-punishment of the grower, within the aforementioned limit, provided that the grower can prove the supply of only the varieties of Cannabis Sativa required by the Single European Catalogue (supplier list, seed tags, accounting documents, supply traceability).

The goal of the Italian legislature has been to promote the integrity of the supply chain Of national hemp. With the idea of ensuring crops marked by safety and quality, in view of the ‘Production of food, cosmetics, biodegradable raw materials and innovative semi-finished products for industries in different sectors‘. While respecting, as a matter of course, every rule to safeguard consumers (including in terms of information), plant health, biodiversity and the environment.

The Ministry of Health and that of Productive Activities should have defined by special acts, within 6 months of the publication of the 2016 law, the THC levels tolerable in the various categories of Cannabis Sativa foods. A dutiful and indispensable act for all supply chain operators to ensure legal certainty and thus entrust dedicated investments to a promising crop. But Carlo Calenda and Beatrice Lorenzin Have missed the roll call. And added to the uncertainty caused by their inaction was the uncertainty caused by an impromptu CSS document.

L’ISS, Superior Institute of Health, is the only body entitled to assess food safety risks and has therefore been entrusted to issue a scientific opinion useful for establishing the technical limits of THC on different food matrices, according to Law 242/2016. Opinion expected within the next few weeks. In the meantime, the Ministry of the Interior – in its own circular 31.7.18 – clarified that

– tolerance for THC levels between 0.2 and 0.6 applies only in the field and limited to farmers,

– in subsequent stages, including the purpose of selling inflorescences for technical and collectible uses, the limit is set at 0.5 percent for inflorescences.

The Ministry of the Interior has thus provided useful instructions to judicial police officers, after the unfortunate misunderstanding that occurred under the previous government. When the Ponte Chiasso Finance Guard, on 23.1.18, seized more than 60 kg of inflorescences and other products (oil with CBD and herbal tea infusions). Vectors – complaintti a piede free for drug trafficking (!) – were later exonerated by the Public Prosecutor’s Office which, following following di toxicological analyses revealing a THC concentration of less than 0.2%,obtained the dismissal of the proceedings..

Hemp for herbal tea use, the dutiful attentions

Pending d
he ISS opinion and the consequent ministerial acts, it is recommended to all operators in the distribution chain and consumers of herbal teas based on inflorescences of hemp the adoption of certain precautions:

– verify the actual origin of the product from botanical species allowed in the Single European Catalogue (selected for reduced psychoactive substance content),

– Avoid purchasing inflorescences in bulk form or contained in anonymous (i.e., lacking the necessary markings to identify the nature of the product and the responsible operator) or de-sealed packaging.

Food safety must also be carefully checked by importers and distributors. Who are equally responsible as the OSA (food handlers) under the integrated supply chain responsibility introduced by the General Food Law (reg. EC 178/02, Article 17). Attention should be paid, especially in the case of imported raw materials, to the risks mentioned below. Which deserve the adoption of appropriate sampling and analysis protocols, in self-control according to the HACCP method:

– contaminants referred to in reg. CE1881/06 (e.g., dioxins, PCBs). To be assessed with extreme caution in the face of the vacuum legis on the food matrix under consideration,

– Heavy metal residues and any phytosanitary metabolites (also taking into account, for example, neighboring crops).

– THC residues to be evaluated with respect to both the agricultural raw material and the food product (herbal tea).

Consumer information must follow the rules that apply to the generality of foods. Having special regard to the optional labeling information that, according to reg. EU 1169/11 (Article 36), must not mislead the consumer about the nature and properties of the product. Finally, it is useful to remember that any suggestion of hypothetical health-promoting virtues-including appeals to psychological or cognitive functions, e.g., about a sense of relaxation and other amenities-involves the application of the so-called Nutrition & Health Claims Regulation, NHC, reg. EC 1924/06.

Dario Dongo

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Dario Dongo, lawyer and journalist, PhD in international food law, founder of WIISE (FARE - GIFT - Food Times) and Égalité.