Herbal treatments banned across the EU

As of 1 May, about a quarter of the adult British population may find they can no longer purchase many of the herbal remedies and supplements they have come to depend upon.  The European Union has passed a regulatory law banning over-the-counter sale of hundreds of herbal medicinal products.  They include such widely-used products as St. John’s Wort, Meadowsweet, ginkgo and ginseng, amongst many other Chinese and Indian remedies.

The new law comes as the result of concerns in professional medical circles regarding the adverse or conflicting effects of some ‘natural’ medicines.  For example, ginseng and ginkgo may contradict the effects of blood-thinners, and St. John’s Wort can interfere with the efficacy of birth control pills.  The idea is that herbal medicines should be treated like any prescription medicine, with careful attention to possible side effects and proper dosage.

Up until now, medicinal herbal products generally had little or no regulation as far as consumer warnings about side effects or maximum safe dosages, and while some of them offered the information on the package, others with identical ingredients did not.  Consumers often choose the one with no warnings, on the assumption that no news is good news and the product is safe.

Makers and practitioners of herbal medicines claim that the new law could drive many of them out of business due to the cost of complying with licensing requirements.  The Alliance for Natural Health (ANH) estimated that the cost of licensing ranges between £80,000 and £120,000 for each herb, and many of these natural remedies contain several different herbal extracts.  They say the only ones who can afford the testing involved are big companies with a single-ingredient product.

Under the EU regulations, products already in distribution can continue to be sold until their expiry date.  However, when that happens and customers can’t get them from licensed practitioners, the fear is that an internet ‘black market’ will spring up, putting consumers at even greater risk.