What do Kellogg’s, Coca-Cola Company, and PepsiCo, Inc. have in common? These companies are not only members of the Consumer Brands Association, but they also serve on its board of directors. And last month, the Association (formerly known as the Grocery Manufacturers Association) created a new advisory board to help form its “advocacy approach” when it comes to the “burgeoning market” of CBD.
The Association “is calling for increased funding for scientific research into CBD and additional resources for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s enforcement and regulation of CBD in consumer products.”
Board members include: Mick Cornett, former Oklahoma City mayor; Edward Davis, former commissioner, Boston Police Department; Tom Galvin, executive director, Digital Citizens Alliance; Karen Tandy, former administrator, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration; and Michael Taylor, former deputy commissioner, U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Cannabis Wire caught up with the Association to learn more about their conversations with federal regulators regarding CBD, the formation of the board, and what their members care about most. (This conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.)
Nushin Rashidian, Cannabis Wire: What led to the decision to form this advisory group on CBD and the FDA?
Betsy Booren, senior vice president, regulatory and technical affairs: I lead our regulatory platform here at Consumer Brands, and one of our core tenets and issues is really championing smart regulations. Our members are some of the most trusted brands in the industry. You’re probably using many of them in your day-to-day life, even if you’re not aware of it. We’re a highly regulated industry, and as we’ve set our priorities as an organization, what came clear to the top is the need to have regulations that help provide trust to consumers, to ensure that safe products are being produced, that consider what consumers want, and also can be something that our members can implement in their facilities. Every day I’m thinking about the myriad of regulations that we deal with. I’m always focusing on smart regulation.
And as interest in CBD for the consumer packaged goods industry started really ramping up in the last year our members, some of those that may want to enter this market, are hesitant to do so until they have a clear federal regulatory framework. And so CBD became an issue where there’s a lot of gray areas, and we need that clear federal framework for the production of consumer packaged goods.
Bryan Zumwalt, executive vice president, public affairs: When we were thinking of how to appropriately advocate in this space, one of the things that obviously came to mind is ensuring that we have the right level of expertise. And that included not only a diversity of ideas, but the diversity of opinion and diversity of expertise. So, we went about trying to determine who those individuals are. We did our own bit of research to make sure we had the right names from law enforcement, drug enforcement, food safety, and consumer protection.
If you look at our advisory board, each of those individuals has space on that spectrum from an expertise perspective. But we also wanted a diversity of opinion as well from a political perspective. Karen Tandy was head of the DEA during the Bush administration, and Mike Taylor was head of food safety at the FDA during the Obama administration. So, our approach really was to get the best expertise we could, the most credible individuals that could guide us across the spectrum because it’s important to note that there is a broad range of issues associated with the cannabis space. And, so we want to make sure as we’re trying to navigate those gray areas and those lines, we have the smartest people at the table to help advise us on our agenda.
Cannabis Wire: How has your group been in contact with the FDA or the USDA on CBD? And if so, which topics are you focused on?
Booren: I would say it’s daily I’m talking to FDA and USDA and regulatory agencies. On this topic, as we’ve been focused on a lot of the food and beverage as well as the personal care non-drug side, trying to get a sense of where they’re going to end up. We’ve seen some clarity come out with some of their statements and warning letters that give us signals. But, trying to get a sense of what kind of data do they need, where their current line of thinking is.
If you’ve ever worked with regulatory agencies, you know they seek a lot of input, but they typically don’t talk publicly until they make formal announcements. But, we’re engaged at a variety of levels at FDA as well as USDA, though most of our interest is really primarily in making sure we can get consumer packaged goods products approved, or being able to be produced. And that primarily falls within the FDA.
Cannabis Wire: And as far as your members go, what are their top concerns and questions that they have raised with you that you have raised with the federal regulators? What kind of clarity are they looking for?
Booren: What we’re really advocating for is getting a better understanding of the safety of those compounds, and how they can be used as ingredients in the CPG space. There’s a lot of work from an ingredient standpoint, setting standards, laboratory methods, all of that that is a part of food and beverage, personal care, and household day in day out regulatory space, that all needs to be determined.
But, at the heart of that comes: what are the safety levels for those compounds that could be added to those products? And that’s why we’re focusing on making sure that FDA and the other research agencies have the money available to conduct that kind of research, but also take action in this already diverse, booming market.
Zumwalt: FDA has to have the science. They need the necessary science to move forward regulatory decisions, as well as some additional enforcement authority. Still, some of the more egregious actors that are out in this space, are in the space now. So there’s a natural consequence again of that timing. We’ll be focused on additional funding for government science to help support FDA decision making, as well as some additional funding for enforcement authority.
Cannabis Wire: What did the FDA’s November announcement about warning letters to CBD companies, with the buried lede that CBD could not yet be determined to be generally recognized as safe (GRAS) in foods, signal to you?
And also what sort of timeline are you expecting things to move along as far as getting clarity for your members? (Read Cannabis Wire’s coverage of the announcement.)
Booren: We can talk about the timeline we would like, but the one that they signaled, those are two very different timelines.
I think that the announcement that you alluded to, we were quite pleased to see both FDA and FTC put out individual, but then the combined, warning letters on that. I’m very happy that these two regulatory agencies are taking action when they believe that there are [misleading or false] claims out there on products. We’re fully supportive of that, and are encouraging them to continue to do that, to make sure we’ve got safe products in the marketplace.
I think the buried lede on the GRAS [generally recognized as safe in foods] is a clear signal that FDA believes additional data is needed. They’ve been very public that they would like to see more information. That to me was a signal that they expect the industry to provide that safety information, and not to make the assumption that it is a compound that should be generally recognized as safe within the food and beverage space.
Cannabis Wire: How would you characterize the level of interest in CBD among your members? What does the opportunity look like for these larger companies that do produce these mainstream products that people use their lives every day?
Zumwalt: In short, the interest is varied. There’s going to be companies that have no interest in engaging the space. There’s companies that are interested in the market.
The reality is, you have, depending on whose estimates you listen to, something that’s going to probably be a roughly $20 billion industry within the next five years. And there’s an interest in playing in this space. We don’t know the exact number of companies that would be interested, but there is an interest in playing in the space as soon as there is a legitimate, appropriate regulatory system in place that’s uniform, that provides a level of comfort and protection for consumers to where they can enter.
Booren: As we’ve been talking with FDA and even with our advisory board, as we start having these conversations, having a clear national federal framework on this allows our members the ability to, as trusted brands, produce the products that we already know consumers want.
And that means whether you’re buying it here in the Commonwealth of Virginia or in D.C. or in Colorado, that same safety standard is applied across the board. We don’t have that right now.
So, for many of our members, I don’t know where they’re going to be, but they need that framework to make the decision. I think their concern is, because there’s so much uncertainty, and the market is expanding and consumers want it, they want to have the ability, should they choose to enter the market in a known framework, have clear safety guidance.
And so, again, I think a lot of this will be business decisions for many of our members and others in the industry, but they don’t want the market shut to them. And I don’t think consumers do. Consumers in our research say they want to see products from the trusted companies that are our members. (Read the Association’s research on CBD and consumers here and here.)
Cannabis Wire: Is there any other aspect of your experience that you feel is important that we haven’t covered yet?
Booren: We know there’s a lot of state interest in this product and there’s a myriad of state rules and laws on this. But it goes back to the point I said. If I’m a consumer and I’m visiting Chicago and I decide to get a shot of CBD in a milkshake, or I’m buying something when I’m in Denver or in the District, I need to know I have confidence that what I’m buying is safe. And having that federal framework does that.
And that’s why we’re trying to get the insights from our advisory board. There’s a lot of issues in this space that makes sense to be done on a local level or the state level. But, when it comes to consumer packaged good products and their safety, it really makes sense to use the federal framework that we have in place and work with FDA, USDA and the other regulatory agencies as needed.