Herbal Medicine – How the EU Ruling Affects You

May is not so merry this year if you, like me, are a fan of alternative medicine. Though calling herbal medicine alternative is a misnomer as it is has been used safely for hundreds of years and many common drugs are based on their active ingredients being synthesized, patented and made profitable. This move only helps drug companies and ignores thousands of years of medical knowledge.

This is despite the fact that recent studies show that at least six million Britons (26% of adults) have used a herbal medicine in the past two years and high level support from the Prince of Wales and Professor George Lewith, professor of health research at Southampton University, who said: ‘Evidence for the efficacy of herbal medicines is growing; they may offer cheap, safe and effective approaches for many common complaints.’

Unfortunately those views, and the thousands who signed the online petitions to the EU have been ignored and we have now lost access to hundreds of herbal medicines after European regulations came into force banning sales of all herbal remedies, except for a small number of popular products for ‘mild’ illness such as echinacea for colds and St John’s Wort for depression. The EU Directive erects high barriers to any herbal remedy that hasn’t been on the market for 30 years – though they are only concerned with commercial sales – not the hundreds of years of experiential use. That includes the most popular traditional systems like Chinese and Ayurvedic as well as the long-established English herbal tradition.

No more popping into your health store, or more recently Boots, to buy your herbal medicines but instead finding a practitioner – not all that numerous – and having to pay a consultation fee is going to deter many people. Both herbal remedy practitioners and long-established manufacturers like fear they could be forced out of business as a result.
Health Secretary Andrew Lansley approved a plan for the Health Professions Council to establish a register of practitioners supplying unlicensed herbal medicines, and in a written statement said the Government wanted to ensure continuing access to unlicensed herbal medicines via a statutory register for practitioners ‘to meet individual patient needs’. Well, not this patient and as this register is only open to those who could afford the licensing process which costs between £80,000 to £120,000 many individual practitioners are at risk of losing their business and livelihood.

At least 50 herbs, including horny goat weed (so-called natural Viagra), hawthorn berry, used for angina pain, and wild yam will no longer be stocked in health food shops, according to the British Herbal Medicine Association. Some familiar preparations may also disappear to be replaced by alternative licensed formulas, which may contain different ingredients – in some cases ‘unnatural’ ingredients such as artificial colourings.

Richard Woodfield, the head of herbal medicine policy at the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency claims that “the scheme means that consumers will have access to a wide choice of over-the-counter herbal medicines made to assured standards. The current signs are that the market will be lively and competitive. The key difference for consumers is that in future they will be in the driving seat and able to make an informed choice when they wish to use these medicines.”

Quite how you make an informed choice when your access to the proven remedies is limited is beyond me and presumably to the 750,000 people who also signed the petition against the ban. If the criteria is safety – as stated – then how safe is it to force people to buying online without the benefit of advice or from long-established companies with a proven track record?

There is an international trade in poor-quality, unregulated and unlicensed herbal products. Some of these have been found to contain banned pharmaceutical ingredients or heavy metals which are poisonous.

Licensing and registering is going to make money for the government and limit your choice to the few large commercial companies who can afford to do so. My advice is if you have a favourite herbal remedy you have been using for years then stock up quickly before it is no longer available or buy online only from a reputable company.

To find a herbalist in your area consult the National Institute of Medical Herbalists at www.nimh.org.uk or www.associationofmasterherbalists.co.uk

The Clock Is Ticking – Act Now To Keep Herbal Medicine On The Shelf

November 1, 2010 by  
Filed under Health, Natural Medicine

Earlier this year I raised the issue that many of our popular alternative remedies are under increasing threat from EU legislation and we are now up against the clock if we want to try and stop it from happening. Herbal medicine has an old and respected tradition, indeed without it many of our modern drugs would not exist.

Modern science has sought out and taken the active ingredients from medicinal plants and synthesised them, with the heart drug digitalis from the foxglove being a common example, as is aspirin from white willow bark. Now your right to use the original, natural plant based remedies could be at an end.

With strict European legislation due to come into force next April, some age-old herbal remedies on sale in health food stores today could become, quite literally, a thing of the past. From April 2011, all member states will have to comply with a European Union directive which specifies that all herbs produced, manufactured and sold in the EU must be classified as either foods or medicines.

Those working in the sector have for a long time been campaigning for regulation and greater control, but the new authorization and licensing requirements have enormous implications for the herbal medicine industry throughout the European Union and for your freedom of choice.

Marinella Trovato, President of S.I.S.T.E., the Italian Society for Herbal Science and Technology in Milan, said that many small producers and manufacturers of medicinal herbs will no longer be able to afford to stay in business as they will be unable to cover the cost of authorization licences for medicinal herbs. UK-trained herbalist, Marco Valussi, speaking at the conference, warned that the terms of the directive would put herbal remedy manufacture in the hands of large pharmaceutical companies, and this was likely to narrow the range of medicinal herbs on the market.

Now that major companies like Boots have their own range of herbal medicines is this not a good thing? Yes, but what you see with large companies is that they are interested in a small rage of remedies that are the most popular, and profitable. However the range of herbal medicines available at the moment is huge and covers all aspects of health care.

What putting herbal medicine into the hands of the large companies means is that they are more likely to focus on maybe five or ten important herbs and leave behind the other ones that are just as valuable, but as popular.

If you value your freedom of choice it is almost too late to register a protest – but not quite. I don’t want to spend a winter without Echinacea to boost my immune system, so if you have benefited from herbal medicine then please take a moment and register your protest with your MP.

A very simple way to do this is to go online where you will be taken through a simple form that will be sent online directly to the MP for your area so copy and paste this link into your browser and make a healthy difference: