Cork Skeptics

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Herbal Medicines – AVAAZ have got it dead wrong

On the 28th of April, AVAAZ, a very prominent campaigning group on the Internet, launched a petition to stop the EU from implementing a new directive concerning the distribution and sale of herbal medicines.

The directive has been implemented following long-standing concerns over the side-effects of certain herbal medicines, and a desire to provide more protection to the consumer. The directive came into force in 2004, with the marketing of non-licenced products permitted up to the 1st of May this year.

The legislation is quite watered down. It is not an outright ban. It does not apply to herbal products that have been around for more than 30 years. Products sold after consultation with a herbalist are exempted. Products already on sale can remain on the shelf until their expiry date. Crucially, the directive only covers product safety, not efficacy. No evidence from clinical trials needs to be presented, only evidence that the products are safe for use. This is a long way from the standards expected for medicinal products and would be more akin to the large number of directives setting out standards and proper codes of practice for food safety.

Opposition to the directive boils down to a reluctance within the traditional medicine / herbal medicine industry to have any standards imposed on them whatsoever. It’s an odd thing, therefore, that AVAAZ have taken such a hysterical position on the issue. Using the fallacious argument that people “have a right to choose among all remedies and medicines that can keep ourselves and our families healthy”, they have argued for a “massive outcry” against the EU’s “draconian measures”. As of time of writing they have succeeded in getting over 700,000 signatures on their website.

AVAAZ often gets it right. They campaigned relentlessly (and successfully) for the commuting of Sakineh Ashtiani’s death sentence by stoning at the hands of the Iranian Government. They have highlighted the plight of gay people in Africa. They have launched efforts to expose government corruption. All good stuff. Nevertheless, on a matter of basic health safety, citing the welfare of herbalists over the consumer, they have got it dead wrong.

For more information on the directive, check out Sinead’s blog entry.

* Image via US Army Korea – IMCOM (CC Licensed)