May 13, 2011
Live in Europe? Get your herbs while they last. New rules put forth by the European Union (EU) will ban the sale of certain herbal remedies that have been used for centuries.
Traditional herbs such a St. John’s Wort or Echinacea must now meet strict licensing guidelines in order to be sold, while other lesser-known herbs that haven’t been “traditionally” used in the last 30 years won’t even make the cut to reach consumer shelves. Only those products that have been “assessed” by the Medicine and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) will be available for purchase. The real kicker? Even approved products will only be recommended for minor ailments such as the common cold, which means that product labeling may no longer be allowed to convey the potent health benefits of widely-used herbal remedies.
According the the EU, the laws were put in place to protect consumers from the “damaging” effects of traditional herbal remedies. The subtext of that statement, of course, is that herbal remedies can sometimes have dangerous interactions when taken with prescription drugs. Used alone, however, herbal supplements rarely pose a problem. With so many people taking prescription drugs, it’s clear that the EU’s move to ban herbal products is a monopolistic attack on the alternative health movement. While they can’t admit the dangerous and deadly side effects of manufactured drugs, they can shift the blame to herbs.
Richard Woodfield, MHRA head of herbal medicine policy, claims that the new regulations empower the consumer: “The current signs are that the [herbal remedy] market will be lively and competitive. The key difference for consumers is that in the future they will be in the driving seat and able to make an informed choice when they wish to use these medicines.”
- A d v e r t i s e m e n t
Paul Gimson, director of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society in Wales, also claims that herbal remedies may not be safe because they have not been put through clinical trials in the same way drugs are tested. Isn’t this a tad obvious, however, since drug companies would never even consider testing or promoting a natural herb as a medicinal cure? Clearly, herbal remedies are not widely used because doctors or health care professionals recommend them. They are used because people know they work.
The most disturbing part? These regulations point to a movement toward complete restriction of herbal products and the idea that pharmaceutical companies may someday have patents on herbal remedies. Consider a possible scenario: A woman who has been taking Chasteberry supplements to regulate a gynecological condition may now need a prescription for it. She goes to her doctor and, instead of giving her the herb, he recommends a drug. She can no longer buy Chasteberry supplements unless she scours the Internet in search of a reputable company that sells safe herbal products. As we all know, these companies can be hard to find.
Not only do these laws threaten the livelihood of nutritionists, herbalists and holistic healthcare providers across Europe, but they put consumers in a lose-lose situation: go without herbal remedies or run the risk of purchasing them online.
Vicky Perks, clinical nutritionist at The Health Diva and health food store, Beanfreaks, notes that the regulations are “poorly thought out” and are driven by money: “Licensing is just a way of generating extra money for the government. It costs €50,000 to license one product.”
Herbal products still on shelves will be for sale until their expiration dates. Stock up while you can.