Hundreds of herbal remedies for EU-wide ban amid safety fears
Hundreds of herbal medicinal products will be banned from sale next year under what campaigners say is a 'discriminatory and disproportionate' European law.
With four months to go before the EU-wide ban is implemented, thousands of patients face the loss of herbal remedies that have been used in the EU for decades.
From 1 May 2011, traditional herbal medicinal products must be licensed or prescribed by a registered herbal practitioner to comply with an EU directive passed in 2004. The directive was introduced amid rising concern over adverse effects caused by herbal medicines.
The UK Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has issued more than a dozen safety alerts in the last two years, including one over aristolochia, a banned toxic plant derivative which caused kidney failure in two women.
Herbal practitioners say it is impossible for most herbal medicines to meet the licensing requirements, which are intended to be similar to those for pharmaceutical drugs, because of the cost of testing.
According to the Alliance for Natural Health (ANH) in Europe around 200 products from 27 plant species have been licensed but there are 300 plant species in use in the UK alone.
The ANH estimates the cost of obtaining a licence at between £80,000 and £120,000 per herb.
They say this is affordable for single herbal products with big markets but will drive small producers of medicines containing multiple herbs out of business.
Under EU law, statutorily regulated herbal practitioners will be permitted to continue prescribing unlicensed products. But Britain's coalition government have delayed plans to introduce a statutory herbal practitioner register.