Count this one as a sweeping victory for Big Pharma: regulations set to go into effect across Europe this year will ban hundreds of herbal medicines in one fell swoop. I appreciate the EU’s effort to keep people safe from untested substances, but is it really possible that echinacea could be any more hazardous than, say, prescription antidepressants? The Independent reports:
Hundreds of herbal medicinal products will be banned from sale in Britain next year under what campaigners say is a “discriminatory and disproportionate” European law.
With four months to go before the EU-wide ban is implemented, thousands of patients face the loss of herbal remedies that have been used in the UK for decades. From May 1, 2011, traditional herbal medicinal products must be licensed or prescribed by a registered herbal practitioner to comply with an EU directive passed in 2004. The directive was introduced in response to rising concern over adverse effects caused by herbal medicines.
Herbal practitioners say it is impossible for most herbal medicines to meet the licensing requirements for safety and quality, which are intended to be similar to those for pharmaceutical drugs, because of the cost of testing.
According to the Alliance for Natural Health (ANH), which represents herbal practitioners, not a single product used in traditional Chinese medicine or ayurvedic medicine has been licensed. In Europe, around 200 products from 27 plant species have been licensed but there are 300 plant species in use in the UK alone.
Michael McIntyre, the chairman of the European Herbal and Traditional Medicine Practitioners Association, said: “The problem is you can’t get a licence for many herbal medicines because they are grown in people’s back gardens and you can’t patent them. The implications are very serious. Patients want to receive treatment from trained and qualified practitioners but unless we have regulation they can’t have confidence in who is treating them. The worst outcome is that patients will end up going to the internet for their herbal medicines where there are no controls.”