Was the UK FSA decision to make changes to the novel food application timeline really that unexpected?

The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) has ruffled a few feathers by changing its criteria for allowing products to stay on the market. Instead of requiring a validated novel food submission, it now only requires a submission that has been administratively checked (essentially scanned over to make sure all required bits are present) – under the assumption that the application will be validated in due course.

The move has divided the industry with those that took seriously the FSA’s announcement in February of last year understandably upset that their adherence and dedication meant little in terms of potential competitive advantage. Those on the other side see the move as welcome – either because it means their business will have a chance to keep selling products in the UK market past the 1st April deadline or because they see a more diverse CBD market in the country as an advantage.

But really, the major question is who is truly surprised that this move was made? It became clearer and clearer as the deadline approached that many companies were going to fall short of validation – even if the FSA put its full resources behind going through all the incoming submissions. CBD-Intel pointed out that a number of major submissions were late enough in the day that technically if the FSA took its full permitted time for an administrative check and validation, they would have missed the deadline. So really it’s no surprise the FSA had to move the goalposts – though any company that gambled on such a happening was risking a lot of money on a little gain.

Now the FSA will have more time to go through the applications. It said it got more applications than it anticipated. This is also what the UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said during the vaping registration process – a clear regulatory parallel – and what was implied by European authorities at the start of the novel food saga before they departed on their tangent to see if CBD was technically a narcotic according to a committee-written document composed about half a century ago.

The real lesson, which has been shown time and time again, is that regulators tend to underestimate the amount of work these tasks generate and overestimate their abilities. Next time there is a similar deadline, expect it to also have to move at least once.

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