Although hemp-based food products have been present in the market in India for several years, all products were previously regulated under the Ministry of Ayurveda, Yoga, Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha, Sowa-Rigpa and Homoeopathy (AYUSH) in the country as the local food authority Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) had not set any standards for hemp locally.
This situation took a positive turn late last year when FSSAI finally issued a gazette notification to include regulations governing hemp seeds and seed products under the Food Safety and Standards (Food Products Standards and Food Additives) Fifth Amendment Regulations, 2021, marking the first time hemp products have been recognised as food in the country.
“[Hemp] seeds, hemp seed oil and hemp seed flour shall be sold as food or used as an ingredient in a food for sale subject to conforming to [FSSAI-defined] standards, [including adhering to specified] THC and cannabidiol (CBD) limits,” said FSSAI via the notification.
“The food for sale that consists of hemp seed or seed products shall not be labelled or otherwise presented for sale in a form which expressly or by implication suggests that the product has a psychoactive effect [and] labels shall not include nutrient content claims about CBD, health claims about CBD or an image or representation of any part of the Cannabis plant (including the leaf of that plant) other than the seed.
“The words ‘cannabis’, ‘marijuana’ or words of similar meaning may not be used on the label, [although] the word ‘Hemp’ may be included.”
The local hemp industry received this news with a warm welcome, calling this decision a ‘rewarding’ and ‘significant’ one.
“This is a significant step towards recognizing the hemp plant and the nutritional benefits of the hemp seed - With this regulation in place, FSSAI has come out with guidelines that will help the Indian hemp industry flourish and also be at par for exports to other countries,” one of India’s largest hemp firms Health Horizons’ Founder and CEO Rohit Shah told FoodNavigator-Asia.
“This move will push the billion-dollar hemp opportunity in India much faster – moving forward we expect to see a 10x growth for the industry fuelled by the regulatory progress.”
Shah explained that the main difference between being regulated under AYUSH as an ayurvedic product and under FSSAI as a food product lies in the ease of doing business with its target market and being recognised as a food item for regular consumption.
“There’s nothing bigger than these regulations for the industry, as FSSAI’s recognition of hemp seeds as food means that trade and business becomes super easy for us [within the food sector and to be recognised as food products],” said Shah.
“This also paves the way for more value-added products made from hemp such as protein bars or flavoured powders to enter the market as food items, [and we believe] that many such products are on the way catering to the Indian habit of regular snacking.
When we spoke to Shah earlier in 2021, Health Horizons had just launched what it claimed to be the country’s first second-generation hemp products – a protein bar and a chocolate powder, and also he also stated that the hemp industry would see ‘no industry left untouched’.
“I still believe that every product is going to have a hemp variant now [that the regulations allow for it],” he said.
“Hemp butter, hemp pastas, hemp chocolates, toothpaste with hemp seed oil, hemp breads and more – Consumers will soon not just have the option to buy these in stores, but likely also to order hemp-based foods in to-go restaurants soon.”
Shah believes that the shift towards plant-based diets is one of the major consumer trends in India that will drive the hemp market forward, as will rising health consciousness.
“Indian consumers are becoming more conscious with their eating habits, particularly since COVID-19 hit where we have seen a massive shit towards plant-based diets,” he said.
“This development [in combination with] a shift in mindset by young Indian consumers to increasingly question and research products before they buy or use [also means that] they are more likely to buy something healthy which ignites their taste buds rather than junk food to consume.
“As such, the hemp industry is going to grow at an unparalleled scale over the next decade, and the new regulation means better industry organisation [which will drive this even further].”