Herbal medicines banned as EU directive comes into force

Daily Mail – April 30, 2011

Patients have lost access to hundreds of herbal medicines today, after European regulations came into force.

Sales of all herbal remedies, except for a small number of popular products for ‘mild’ illness such as echinacea for colds and St John’s Wort for depression have been banned.

For the first time traditional products must be licensed or prescribed by a registered herbal practitioner.

Both herbal remedy practitioners and manufacturers fear they could be forced out of business as a result.

Some of the most  commonly used products were saved after the Health Secretary Andrew Lansley approved a plan for the Health Professions Council to establish a register of practitioners supplying unlicensed herbal medicines.

However, many remedies were lost as it was only open to those who could afford the licensing process which costs between £80,000 to £120,000.

At least 50 herbs, including horny goat weed (so-called natural Viagra), hawthorn berry, used for angina pain, and wild yam will no longer be stocked in health food shops, says the British Herbal Medicine Association.

The 2004 EU directive demands that a traditional herbal medicinal product must be shown to have been in use for 30 years in the EU – or at 15 years in the EU and 15 years elsewhere – for it to be licensed.

The UK drug safety watchdog, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Agency, has issued more than a dozen alerts in the past two years, including a warning last month over a contaminated weight loss pill called Herbal Flos Lonicerae (Herbal Xenicol) due to concerns over possible side-effects.

Mr Lansley, in a written statement, said the Government wanted to ensure continuing access to unlicensed herbal medicines via a statutory register for practitioners ‘to meet individual patient needs’.

Acupuncture falls outside the EU directive and so remains unaffected.

Prince Charles, a long-standing supporter of complementary therapies, has voiced his support for formal regulation of herbal practitioners.

Up til now the industry has been covered by the 1968 Medicines Act. This was drawn up when only a small number of herbal remedies were available.

But recent studies show that at least six million Britons have used a herbal medicine in the past two years.

Professor George Lewith, professor of health research at Southampton University, said: ‘Evidence for the efficacy of herbal medicines is growing; they may offer cheap, safe and effective approaches for many common complaints.

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