European kava manufacturers are meeting suppliers in Brussels this month in a final attempt to try to save trade in the herbal, almost wiped out by bans in most EU states relating to its safety.
The European delegation will also claim that kava, taken in supplements to reduce anxiety and depression, does not pose the safety risks currently represented by many national food and drug agencies.
The meeting, sponsored by trade development organisations PRO€INVEST and the EU-ACP Center for Development of Enterprise (CDE), is part of an initiative to support the Pacific herbal industry, which is currently experiencing an economic crisis as a result of restrictions placed on the sale of kava within the European Union.
Kava has been under threat since late 2001, when German and Swiss health authorities began restricting the sale of kava-containing food and medicinal products after a small number of adverse reactions, thought to be associated with the use of kava, were reported.
The BfArM (the German Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices) banned the sale of kava products in June 2002, closing the country's huge herbals market to kava trade. Since then France, Japan, UK, Australia, Canada, Switzerland and Singapore have followed Germany, with other countries implementing voluntary recalls.
The resulting disaster for the South Pacific kava industry, predominately located in Vanuatu, Fiji, Samoa and Tonga, which is also threatening the livelihood of many Pacific people, led kava exporters to request help from CDE to try to re-open European markets.
A report by Berlin-based Phytopharm Consulting, commissioned by the CDE to assess whether kava restrictions could be altered by EU regulators, found that the efficacy and safety of kava in the treatment of anxiety and stress have been proven by more than 20 clinical trials involving more than 10,000 patients. The report also indicates that there has been over 2000 years of traditional use of Kava. It is supported by international post marketing experience and reviews by several expert panels commissioned by the German Health Ministry.
"The severe hepatotoxic effects of kava, claimed by drug regulation authorities, cannot be regarded as clearly proven," said Dr Joerg Gruenwald of Phytopharm who prepared the CDE report.
"Of the 76 reported cases that we re-evaluated, only four could possibly be linked to the intake of kava. This view is moreover supported by many well renowned scientific kava experts, who all believe thatregulatory authorities should reconsider the restrictions so far placed on the sale of kava," he added.
The meeting, taking place from 25-26 August, will be attended by leading European manufacturers Finzelberg, Gehrlicher and Carlo Sessa, as well as Barbara Steinhoff from the BAH and Anthony Bush from the EHPM. Phytomedicine experts Dr Mathias Schmidt (Society for Medicinal Plant Research), Professor Dr Fritz-H Kemper and Simon Mills (ESCOP) will also attend, along with five of the largest Pacific kava exporters and several Pacific scientists.