European Union Kisses Herbal Supplements Goodbye

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Terrible news from the European Union (EU) as Big Pharma scores a victory and health freedom takes a hit.

As of April 2011, all member states of the EU will have to comply with a directive detailing that all herbs produced, manufactured and sold in the EU must fall under the classification as either foods or medicines. This may not sound like a big deal at first, but the implications may be devastating for the natural health industry.

The problem lies in the fact that small producers and manufacturers of medicinal herbs will not be able to cover the costs associated with authorization licenses. According to the directive, all herbal supplements are required to be put through the same testing procedure pharmaceuticals are put through, regardless of whether or not the herb has been used safely for thousands of years. This could lead to numerous herbal products simply disappearing from the shelves across Europe.

Herbalist Marco Valussi, speaking at a conference in Bologna, Italy, warned that the terms of the directive would put herbal remedy manufacture in the hands of large pharmaceutical companies, companies who can afford the expensive testing needed to become licensed.

It is unlikely that small manufacturing companies can afford the estimated costs of £80,000 to £120,000 per herb (each herb within a compound has to be tested separately). Only pharmaceutical companies can afford this sort of expensive testing.

The consequences of this would no doubt narrow the range of medicinal herbs on the market as well as possibly lowering the quality. “These [pharmaceutical] companies might decide to focus on maybe five or ten important herbs and leave behind the other ones. So the consumer could have a reduced range of choices,” Valussi said.

In the end, this could lead to much reduced access to the wide range of plant medicines currently enjoyed in Europe and possibly a greater cost for those still available. Health food stores, with much reduced varieties of stock, may become a thing of the past as pharmacies, who generally charge much more for products, take up the limited products.

According to the German news site Deutche Welle,

Many commonly used Ayurvedic, Chinese and Tibetan herbal mixes, which are perhaps not medically recognized in the EU, will no longer be legally available. The directive aims to safeguard consumers and ensure the quality of commercialized herbal products, but Michael McIntyre [Professor of Herbal Medicine at the University of Middlesex and Chairman of the European Herbal Practitioners Association] believes it will, ironically, have the opposite effect: “Patients or the public who want to use herbal medicines will be forced to go onto the internet and buy from unsafe sources, or indeed visit backstreet bogus practitioners who haven’t got proper training.”


Why you should care

Make no mistake, this sort of legislation is always on the table as a possibility for Canada. Hidden within the language of the infamous Bill C-36, the Canada Consumer Product Safety Act, is a clause which states that Canadians will be “subject to the dictates of foreign authorities.” Who these “foreign authorities” are is undefined but could mean anything — foreign governments, NAFTA, the WTO, CETA, the United Nations. The passing of anti-herb legislation in the EU could end up in Canada by way of the back door, once we’ve given up our sovereignty on the issue.

Even if you’re not an herbal supplement user, you can at least appreciate that rights to self-determination are being infringed upon here. Every individual has the right to determine how they wish to deal with their own health.

It’s already bad enough that health care won’t cover anything but what is dictated as appropriate by the pharmaceutical industry (despite the fact that it’s our tax dollars paying for it). But down the road, there’s a good chance Canadians won’t even be allowed to pay out of pocket for the health therapies they deem fit for themselves because they will no longer be available.

The Healthy Foodie is Doug DiPasquale

Editor’s Review:

The same regulations have been enacted in Canada since 2004. The US and the EU have been keeping an eye on the effects of the regulations here before enacting similar regulations in their jurisdictions. Health Canada has put in place the Natural Health Product regulations in 2004 and has progressively enforced the regulations.

According to these regulations, Natural Health Products are considered drugs and have very strict quality, safety and efficacy requirements. Furthermore, the manufacturing process has to follow strict guidelines

I just hope that the EU will also take a similar risk-based approach similar to ours (this means that products with a higher risk are more scrutinized than products that carry a lower risk).

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