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The packaging might say it’s “all natural” or even organic, but a study on CBD products found an alarming number of companies may be making unverified claims about their products.
The report from the Center for Food Safety, a national nonprofit focused on improving health and the environment through ethical food production, graded 40 CBD producers from around the country.
The results? Not so great. Eighteen of the companies failed, with only four receiving an A. At least 11 of the manufacturers that scored failing grades supply products widely across New Jersey, some in Target, The Vitamin Shoppe, and CVS, while others stock the shelves of independent health-focused retailers.
On the bright side: Three of the A-rated suppliers (Green Gorilla, Fountain of Health and RE: Botanicals) also ship CBD to the Garden State.
“The scorecard is intended to help consumers make educated choices about the products they use and encourage companies in this industry to improve their production and sourcing policies,” the report said.
The 2018 Farm Bill removed hemp, marijuana’s mild cousin, from the federal list of schedule 1 drugs. That move legalized hemp-derived CBD, one of the many chemicals found in the cannabis plant that will not get a user high.
But regulations are scarce, as is scientific research backing health claims made about CBD.
Gov. Phil Murphy last month signed legislation allowing hemp to be grown freely, setting the grounds for a new cash crop and locally-sourced CBD. Both federal and state guidelines on hemp are expected in the coming weeks, but for now, CFS gave recommendations to both consumers and producers in its report.
Without regulation, the responsibility falls to companies that choose to take the responsible route and shoppers willing to do their research and push the industry in an ethical direction.
“I was really glad that someone was asking these questions and taking the time to compile the data,” said Jennifer Cabrera, an attorney specializing in hemp and cannabis regulations. “There’s such a huge data gap.”
CFS considered the following in ranking the providers:
- Whether the products were classified as certified organic or made with organic ingredients
- How manufacturers process their products (using ethanol/alcohol versus carbon dioxide)
- Whether a manufacturer tests for lead and microbiological contaminants
- How transparent the companies were in recounting their practices to consumers
Michael Brubeck, chairman of the CBD Industry Association, said it “did not surprise me in the least bit” that so many of the companies failed.
And the report, one of the first of its kind, used mostly fair metrics when evaluating the companies, he said.
Six of the companies make CBD products mostly USDA Certified Organic. Seventeen claim to use organic ingredients, but most lack verification, according to the report. Others say they grow “naturally,” a loose term that has no real scientific meaning.
Most producers lost out on the transparency category, either for not having USDA Organic certification, ignoring the survey or failing to list clear info on their sites, according to the report.
The failing companies with products in New Jersey stores include Ancient Nutrition, Barlean’s, Gnome Serum, Hemp Fusion, Irwin Naturals, Lord Jones, Natures Plus, Shikai, CBD Distillery, Premium Jane and Straight Hemp.
An F doesn’t mean the company is a sham. In the current climate, it’s extremely difficult for companies to grow their own hemp and follow it through to the final stages of production. As a result, some might not have all the information on what they’re making, but a data-gathering exercise like the report can help shake that, Cabrera said.
“It’s unfair to assume that they are being cheap or trying to cheat customers,” she said.
Many companies took issue with the scoring. Eleven sent a letter to CFS urging the agency to correct the record.
“While we applaud efforts to provide consumers with information about how CBD products are produced and processed, we are deeply concerned about spreading misinformation,” the letter said.
Rafael Avila, manager of research and development at Natures Plus, said the company was not aware of CFS’s attempts to contact them prior to the study. He said he found the report lacking in transparency and completion, as it involved self-reporting rather than researchers testing the products.
“They’re giving some products A-marks without ever testing their products,” he said. “That is unfathomable.”
Still, experts say, public pressure like this will likely remain the main vehicle through which the industry shifts its standards until rigid regulations come into play.
“I think the public shaming is probably the number two driver of change,” Brubeck, of the industry association, said. “This was a great use of public shaming.”
The Center for Food Safety did not return calls and an email seeking comment on the report.
See a full list of the suppliers graded here.
Amanda Hoover can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @amandahoovernj. Find NJ.com on Facebook.
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