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EDITIONS
Friday, 22 November, 2002, 09:14 GMT
Euro MPs back herbal crackdown
The plans will see checks on some vitamins
The European Parliament has backed proposals to impose strict rules on herbal remedies.

The proposed European Union directive will require all herbal medicines to be registered.

Packs will have to include a full list of ingredients and will have to prove they are not a threat to public health.


Without these basic standards we cannot guarantee the quality and safety of the herbal remedies which go on the shelves

Catherine Stihler MEP
The proposals will have to be backed by EU health ministers before they become law.

MEPs said the measures will ensure the quality and safety of herbal medicines.

However, there are fears that the directive will restrict the number and type of herbal medicines available to the public.

Manufacturers have also warned that it threatens jobs and could put some companies out of business.

Scientific tests

Around 300 over-the-counter remedies will have to be tested by EU scientists to make sure they meet the new safety and health standards.

But speaking ahead of the vote, Labour's health spokeswoman in the parliament Catherine Stihler said the measures would improve standards.

"At the moment, British consumers caught unaware can buy shoddy herbal goods with half measures and second rate products with contaminants and cheap substitute ingredients."

"Whether it's milk thistle, ginseng, willow bark or agnus castis, the pills you buy should have the full measure not a watered down half, and ground herb ingredients should be top quality not second grade look-alike substitutes.

"Without these basic standards we cannot guarantee the quality and safety of the herbal remedies which go on the shelves."

Phillip Whitehead, Labour's consumer spokesman in the parliament, said most existing products will pass the new tests.

"No one should quarrel with the call for ingredients and combinations to be assessed on content, safety and value.

"The vast majority of these products will comfortably pass the basic requirements."

The UK's Consumers' Association backs the proposals.

Jackie Glatter, its senior public affairs officer, said: "Herbal medicines are becoming increasingly popular with consumers and can bring positive effect on health. and to complement prescribed medicines.

"However, they can also have side effects and interact with conventional medicines in potentially harmful ways.

"There is a need for safeguards and better public information and research in this area.

"The proposed draft directive aims to strike a much-needed balance between consumer choice and public safety."

Under fire

But Dr Rob Verkerk of the Alliance for Natural Health, which represents herbal medicine practitioners, claimed many herbal medicines with a proven safety record would disappear.

He said: "Thousands of people across Europe suffering from diseases as serious as cancer and HIV rely on herbal medicines to improve their quality of life.

"If these medicines are removed, patients will have no alternative but to use conventional medicines that are many times more dangerous."

Dr Liam Fox, health spokesman for the UK's Conservative Party, criticised the vote.

"The EU Food Supplements Directive will lead to an over-restrictive regulation of food supplements.

"As a result, many popular and important substances with a long history of safe use will not be available in the United Kingdom."

See also:

19 Nov 02 | Health
13 Mar 02 | Health
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