Can I Trust Certificates Of Analysis (COAs)?
Advice from Leading Third-Party Labs
One of the largest questions facing consumers in the CBD industry today is ‘How do I know if my CBD product is real, reliable and safe?’ One of the most effective ways that companies have been able to answer this question is through third-party Certificates of Analysis (COA).
Independent analytical laboratories provide testing services for hemp biomass, CBD extracts and finished products in order to offer an unbiased report on the cannabinoid and contaminant levels. It tells producers and consumers alike what their product contains so they can be confident in its quality and safety.
One of the most effective ways that companies have been able to answer this question is through third-party Certificates of Analysis (COA).
In this article, we will discuss the importance of COAs, dive into the issue of fraudulent COAs in the CBD industry, and learn how to verify if a COA is trustworthy or not. We spoke with Eurofins and ProVerde, trusted third-party labs in the industry, to get their perspective and advice on the problem.
Why are COAs Important?
Eurofins recently acquired Covance Food Solutions, a nutritional testing laboratory that has been around for 80+ years specializing in consumer product analysis. “It’s a trust, but verify, industry,” said Eurofins. Whether you own a brand or processing company, you need to make sure that your materials, ingredients, and products are meeting your internal standards, customer needs, and regulations. Although it is an issue throughout the supplement market, the emphasis on quality is even more important in the CBD industry due to its use and rising popularity.
ProVerde, a third-party laboratory that specializes in cannabis analysis, also spoke on the importance of COAs. They are important “from the consumer perspective to ensure that you get what you paid for,” meaning the contents of the product match the label in terms of dose and extract type. Also, customers should be confident that their product is completely free of contaminants or unwanted compounds. From the perspective of CBD producers, COAs are helpful in understanding your processes, identifying and eliminating sources of contamination, and aiding in the development of consistent formulations.
They are important “from the consumer perspective to ensure that you get what you paid for.”
COAs in the Supplement and Pharmaceutical Industries
Not only are COAs important in the CBD industry, but in the supplement and pharmaceutical space as well. An ‘over the counter’ drug manufacturer in Canada received a warning letter from the FDA in 2017 for failing to test incoming ingredients through a third-party lab before formulating their products. “As FDA’s letter stated, ‘You must conduct at least one specific identity test to analyze all incoming components. You may not rely on your supplier’s CoA to verify the identity of your components.'”
The general consensus is that “You need to be very skeptical of information provided by supplement manufacturers and sellers.” This goes for all types of products that you consume, but the supplement space especially. In general, supplement production is less regulated than other industries, and in the case of CBD, a product with hype and large profit potential, consumers must be wary of counterfeit products and certificates.
The general consensus is that “You need to be very skeptical of information provided by supplement manufacturers and sellers.”
Fake COAs for CBD Products
ProVerde said that fraudulent COAs are prevalent, the two most common adulteration methods being changing the name of the company on the document or changing the reported numbers. This issue began years ago, and it’s challenging the legal marijuana industry as well.
An article published in 2016 tells the story of a third-party supplement testing lab who found out that companies were creating fake COAs which looked identical to real certificates from the lab. Examples of companies forging COAs or insufficiently testing ingredients or products with a third party lab are everywhere.
Kazmira has also seen questionable examples of COAs that do not match test results confirmed by additional labs for the same sample. Although it is very difficult to prove any fraudulence, it is clear to the company that you shouldn’t trust a COA just because it has numbers, there must be additional steps taken to verify the accuracy and quality of the results.
Why Would a Company Want a Fake or Adulterated COA?
COAs have become a gold standard in the industry, and the word is finally getting out to consumers that they should be checking for a COA before buying a product. However, much like CBD companies themselves, third-party labs do not have a regulatory foundation that performs audits or standardizes their testing procedures. Therefore, some untrustworthy CBD businesses try to take advantage of this by producing fraudulent COAs. If companies have products that do not meet regulations or safety standards, they may try to lie about this with a fake or altered COA. Even third-party labs themselves could be ‘dry labbing,’ meaning they produce fake results to keep their clients happy and returning.
Much like CBD companies themselves, third-party labs do not have a regulatory foundation that performs audits or standardizes their testing procedures.
On the topic of dry labs, Eurofins said, “Coming from a third-party lab and knowing how much it costs to run a test, seeing some of the pricing at other labs really makes you wonder what exactly they are doing for their testing.” It is expensive to run these tests, and cheap prices could indicate the lab is not actually performing the tests they say they are.
An interesting twist in this story is that laboratories do not have industry standard testing procedures for cannabinoids or cannabis products. Some basic safety tests are standard such as the FDA approved BAM method for detecting microbes, according to ProVerde. However, when it comes to cannabinoids, analytical methods vary from lab to lab. These methods are also adapted for different types of products whether it be hemp biomass, oil, or finished products.
Eurofins said they follow the AOAC methods for cannabinoid testing, which they helped develop. ProVerde said they use proprietary analytical methods. According to Eurofins, labs often base their procedures off of published methods that they adapt to fit the sample or testing equipment that they possess. The point is not that one lab method is better than the other, but the fact that methods differ from lab to lab presents a dilemma for the industry. You could potentially send the same CBD sample to three different labs and get three different COA results.
The point is not that one lab method is better than the other, but the fact that methods differ from lab to lab presents a dilemma for the industry.
How to Verify A Certificate of Analysis
Eurofins and Proverde offered advice on how to verify the authenticity and quality of CBD products and their respective COAs.
- ASK THE MANUFACTURER FOR A CERTIFICATE OF ANALYSIS
- Check for a QR code on the product package — this will link you directly to the Certificate of Analysis.
- Make sure the COA is produced by a third-party and is not an “in-house” COA.
- Look into the lab who produced the COA — are they reputable? Is the lab facility ISO accredited?
- Make sure all of the identifying information is present — batch number, product name, company name and contact, lab name and contact etc.
- Make sure all tests have been completed and reported — full cannabinoid and terpene profile, pesticides, heavy metals, solvents, microbials etc.
- Make sure methods and detection limits such as LOD/LOQ are reported.
- Check for a verification QR code on the COA — it should link you to the laboratory website to verify its authenticity.
- Contact the third-party laboratory to verify if the COA provided to you matches the one they have on record.
For more information, check out our article on How to Read a Certificate of Analysis.
Be Confident in Your Choice of CBD Oil
With the lack of regulation and multitude of opportunities for fraud in the industry, it can be difficult to decide which company to purchase from. Make sure to Know Your CBD Manufacturer and understand how to verify the quality and trustworthiness of a company before you purchase. At Kazmira, we strive to be the best in class CBD manufacturer, making our company synonymous with the highest level trust and integrity in the industry. We have built relationships rooted in trust with all market stakeholders including (1) the end consumer (2) our customers (3) our farming partners (4) our employees and (5) regulatory agencies. There is a deep need to restore integrity in the industry, and Kazmira is leading that effort.