Legal and political herbal news

I decided to put this up since so many people have asked me about what’s going on with the combined European legislation, statutory regulation and codex political changes. Of these, codex is the one I know least about, but I think I can give you an accurate picture of the other two.

From April this year (2011), the Traditional Medicines Directive (TMD) comes into force. This is derived from European regulation designed to harmonise Over the Counter (OTC) sales of herbal products. It will mean that any product for OTC sale must have a TMD product license. These licenses are not as difficult to acquire as drugs licenses, but still expensive enough to make this market impossible for small producers. Requirements include providing evidence of traditional use in Europe, GMP (Good Manufactury Practice), and quality control/safety/labelling requirements. The costs per license (per product) is apparently in the region of £30,000 – obviously making this a market for the bigger players. Interestingly, of the 70 products so far to acquire licenses, about a third are through pharmaceutical companies.

The bad news is that this will obviously limit consumer choice with OTC herbal products. The possible good news is that it may remove a number of seriously sub-standard and over-hyped products from the shelves – then again there will probably be sub-standard and over-hyped products with a product license! As far as I am aware, dried herbs and teas (which are not products) will still be available on the market. The legislation is aimed at finished ‘medicinal’ products.

Herbalists will be exempt, and maintain the right to make up herbs or prescriptions as they see fit for individuals following a face to face consultation. The key difference here is that a herbalist prescribes herbs, and generally does not sell OTC to unknown customers. Just recently, the government has announced that statutory self regulation will go ahead for medical herbalists in 2012, with them becoming professional health care providers under the HPC (health care professions council).

I, like many herbalists, view this with very mixed feelings.

On one hand it may help with creating a more integrated health care system, in which herbalists are recognised for the professionals they are. On the other hand, I consider it of fundamental importance that there also exist a strong community of lay herbalists, who may not have or wish to have the medical training needed to integrate with our existing health care system. My experience is that a huge amount of good can be done at a non-professional level. I’d even go as far to suggest that for every 1 person who would really benefit from consulting a professional herbalist, there are 10-100 who do not need this, yet can hugely benefit from herbs, either self-medicated or recommended by a ‘lay’ herbalist.

Another risk is that the regulatory body exerts a strong pressure against a holistic approach (as most herbalists use), and pro a reductionist, medicalised and pseudo-evidence-based approach. At this stage it is difficult to predict if this becomes a real problem, but many from the osteopathic and chiropractic world warn strongly of this.

I perceive the professional role as one of having enough knowledge and experience to support someone deeply and holistically through a process of healing. To be able to interact with, diagnose, understand and support the medical aspects of any illness, whilst working holistically towards healing. Many people need more than a simple recommendation for a herbs – they need solid support to help make changes in their life, understand their body and keep a clear vision of the good health they believe they can achieve. This is a huge skill to offer people, and after 15 years experience, I more aware of how little I know rather than how much!

My hope is that herbalists who have dedicated their life to the art can grow in knowledge, wisdom and skills through their commitment to professionalism. My hope is that they also freely share, teach and inspire, such that herbal knowledge more firmly re-instates itself in our culture. Personally I divide my energy 50:50 between teaching and practice and intend to maintain this commitment to teaching.

In my teaching, I work towards empowering and informing lay herbalists, cottage herbalists, hedge witches, healers and therapists who wish to bring herbs into their practice, as well as offering CPD for professional herbalists.

I look forward to a future where there is someone skilled with herbs on every street in every town, nurturing the health of their community. Herbs are all of our birthright – no legislation can ever stop us growing and using the plants we need. Perhaps it is no bad thing to be taking them out of their brightly coloured marketing and back into the soil where we can really learn from them.

We are at a time of huge transition in so many ways, but the herbs will always be there for us.

Leave a Reply