As of May 2011 hundreds of herbal remedies used routinely in the UK will no longer be available under a directive aimed at harmonising UK law with that of the EU in response to concerns over adverse effects caused by herbal products.
The directive, passed in 2004 and known as the European Traditional Herbal Medicines Directive, plans to put an end to herbal practitioners prescribing unlicensed herbal remedies to their patients that have been made by a third party (i.e. by a herbal manufacturer or supplier). In addition, the directive also applies to prescription services, which prepare a specific herbal remedy for a specific patient at the request of a practitioner.
Many practitioners have come to be reliant on such services as preparing remedies in, for example, tablet or capsule format often involves either laborious methods or specialist equipment. However, as a result of this directive, practitioners would only be allowed to prescribe herbs to patients that had been wholly prepared on their premises. Obviously, such an aggressive legislation would not only have a disastrous impact on practitioners and the people they treat, it would also put many manufacturers and suppliers at risk of going out of business – something that is highly undesirable in these tough economic times!
Will all herbs be ‘illegal’?
The only third-party remedies that practitioners could continue to prescribe to their patients would be those that are licensed under the EU. Presently, only a small number of herbal remedies have obtained a licence. Why is this? Well, the Alliance for Natural Health (ANH) has estimated the cost of licensing to be between £80,000 and £120,000 per herb – something which may be affordable for single herbs with large markets (Echinacea being an obvious example) but, unfortunately, has meant many herbs (especially those used in Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda) have not been able to afford licenses.
Of course, no one would argue that the safe manufacture, prescription and use of herbal products is of paramount importance; however, this current directive risks the illegal supply of unregulated herbs and an increase in people buying herbs on the internet from sources that lack quality control and may even be mixed with conventional medicines. Such a scenario would put the public at significant risk rather than help to make herbal therapy safe!
So, what can be done?
Since 2000, the UK Government has held three consultations on the subject of giving herbal practitioners statutory regulation – all of which have been overwhelmingly in favour. By having statutory regulation (i.e. regulation of the profession that would ensure herbalists were properly educated and qualified), herbalists would acquire ‘authorised health care professional’ status. This would mean that they could continue to commission the manufacture of herbal remedies, made to an assured medicinal quality standard, for prescription to their patients. This would ensure that only those who have received adequate training would be able to call themselves ‘herbalists’ and would allow the safe, regulated continuation of herbal medicine within the UK and EU – a hugely popular form of alternative healthcare upon which many people are reliant in their daily lives.
To read more about statutory regulation of herbalists and the new European Traditional Herbal Medicines Directive, please refer to the ehtpa website: www.ehtpa.eu