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Friday, July 16, 1999 Published at 02:24 GMT 03:24 UK


Government backs down over herbal remedies

Existing products will not be covered by regulations

Tough measures designed to introduce regulation into the herbal remedy and cosmetic industry have been watered down following a consultation process.

The government is to push ahead with plans for a new procedure for deciding whether individual products should be licenced as medicines following pressure from the European Community (EC).

But it has stepped back from its original proposals, which, when unveiled last November, caused an outcry from the industries, who claimed they were draconian and would cost jobs.

The industry feared that many more new products would need to go through the licensing process, which is lengthy and expensive.

However, the government has confirmed that nothing will happen unless there is a complaint from the public about ill-effects caused by a cosmetic or herbal remedy.

Burden of proof on government

The original proposals said that manufacturers would have to prove their products were safe if prosecuted following a complaint.

Now, say the government, the Medicines Control Agency, their drug safety body, will have to prove the product is dangerous to gain a conviction, as in any other criminal case.

[ image: Baroness Hayman launched the proposals]
Baroness Hayman launched the proposals
And an panel set up to decide whether products need a full licence will be composed of independent experts, not simply those drawn from the MCA as originally proposed.

The changes will only apply to new products, not to existing cosmetics and foods on sale.

Health Minister Baroness Hayman, announcing the proposals on Friday, said: "These changes are designed to make the MCA classificiation process more transparent, consistent and credible. They will not alter in any way the definition of a medicine or the criteria for deciding if a product is a medicine or not."

A spokesman for the Department of Health said the proposals had been "softened" following the consultation exercise.

'Consumers will be protected'

She said that consumers would still benefit from a formal procedure which would swing into action once a complaint about a product's safety was made by a member of the public or a doctor.

She said: "The new process will be much quicker - if something is dangerous, it will be off the shelves within months - before it could have taken up to two years."

The EU had pointed out the lack of procedures in the UK for dealing with the licensing of herbal remedies, and cosmetics with therapeutic ingredients, she said.

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