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CBD report card—industry’s open response and call for accuracy and transparency

An open letter from hemp CBD companies was sent to the Center for Food Safety on the subject of the controversial scorecard.

A consortium of 11 hemp CBD companies mailed the following letter to the Center for Food Safety in response to the group's scorecard that was unveiled at Natural Products Expo East 2019. Learn more about the controversial scorecard and the industry response here.

September 25, 2019

Center for Food Safety
Center for Cannabis Safety
Attn: Rebecca Spector, Project Manager/Editor 660 Pennsylvania Ave., SE 402
Washington, DC 20003

Re: CBD Report Card—Industry’s Open Response and Call for Accuracy and Transparency

Dear Ms. Spector:

We the undersigned retailers, suppliers, and manufacturers of CBD write to urge the Center for Food Safety (CFS) to promptly correct the record in the Hemp CBD Scorecard (the “Scorecard”) published on September 11. The undersigned include dietary supplement companies and hemp industry leaders dedicated to responsibly producing the best and safest hemp products. While we applaud efforts to provide consumers with information about how CBD products are produced and processed, we are deeply concerned about spreading misinformation. Our purpose in writing is to share our concerns and propose a resolution.

The Survey

The Scorecard assigns letter grades to CBD companies based on data largely collected through a self-reported survey or, failing that, through CFS’s luck in independently verifying information not received through the survey. CFS admits it “did not ask for official documentation proving certain company claims.” But any study that purports to be independent, rigorous, and scientific, should independently verify information that forms the basis of its public assessments.

As for the companies that did not respond to the survey, did not notice it, thought it was spam, or simply did not receive it, CFS just “assume[d] that the company d[id] not follow” the criteria and lowered grades accordingly. Although CFS could argue it independently searched for some information not reported in the survey, this argument fails because many of the undersigned companies met the criteria outlined in the Scorecard and clearly posted this information on their websites, yet received failing or near-failing grades.

Criteria 1: Production (25 points)

Fully one quarter of a company’s entire grade is based off a brief, vaguely worded “Production” category. Yet, aside from a comment about organic certification, nowhere in the report or its appendix does CFS explain what the Production category entails. It strikes us as unfair and misleading to assign 25% of a grade to such an ill-defined category. To the extent the Production category involves organic certification, the Scorecard fails to explain how companies are graded when they offer both organic and non-organic SKUs, as many companies do. Moreover, there are still only a limited number of farms that have received organic certification. This criterion appears to us to be premature, especially for a quarter of the grade.

Category 2: Processing (5 points)

CFS assigns 5 points for CO2 or lipid extraction, 2.5 points for a combination of CO2 and alcohol extraction, and 0 points “if the company did not specify non-GMO ethanol.” Thus, if a company did not respond to the survey or never received it, that company gets an “F” for processing even though they may actually use CO2 or non-GMO extraction.

Category 3: Testing (30 points)

Almost a third of the grade relates to “testing,” including for pesticides, microbiological contaminants, heavy metals, and for following “Good Management Practices.” The Center lowers grades for failing to test for glyphosate, a test that, CFS concedes, is unavailable in most standard pesticide testing panels. Consequently, many companies that diligently test every lot for pesticides received low or failing grades simply because they did not procure a single specific, non-standard subtest (assuming one was available).

In fact, there is at least one company that received a grade of “A” that does not provide online testing results of any kind for the majority of products it makes, including for heavy metals, pesticides (including glyphosate), efficacy, microbial safety, etc. That company only provides a singular “sample” set of test results from one batch for each SKU on its website. If consumers wish to obtain results for the specific bottle they are interested in buying, they must contact the company by phone.

Yet other companies that do provide lot-specific, third party test results for every batch made—and do so directly on their websites—were given low or no points because consumers are asked to enter a lot or batch number to pull up the specific test results for that bottle. Since all the information needed to get test results is available on the outside of the packaging, consumers can immediately see how the specific bottle in their hand rates, before purchase. Indeed, access to batch-specific test results via on-pack QR codes is not only an industry standard; it is required to legally sell CBD in certain states. The way you rated companies on this scorecard appears in direct conflict with your stated intent of transparency, and also further points to a lack of proper validation or research.

Category 4: Transparency (40 points)

Almost half of the total score—40/100 points—relates to CFS’s conception of “transparency.” While “transparency” sounds good, most of the transparency points in the Scorecard come from unverified “responsiveness to the CFS survey, phone calls, and general follow ups.” If the company did not respond to or did not receive the survey, up to 40% of the available points were lost. 40% of the grade can be the difference between an “A” and an “F” or “D.”

Call to Action—Correct the Record

The undersigned ask CFS to promptly update the Scorecard to reflect companies’ actual practices. Specifically, we ask the following:

  • Within 10 days of receipt of this letter, provide each company with a copy of the original survey and a breakdown of its per-category score;
  • Provide a 20-day window for companies to provide accurate information;
  • Provide a CFS point of contact to provide correct information about CBD products; and
  • Promptly update the Scorecard and all publications referring to it so that it reflects accurate and complete information.

Thank you in advance for your willingness to work with the industry to truly provide consumers with accurate and transparent information about CBD products.

Signed, 

Ancient Nutrition
Barlean's
Bluebird Botanicals
CBDistillery
CV Sciences
Garden of Life
HempFusion
Irwin Naturals
Joy Organics
Queen City Hemp
Shikai

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