Herbal product manufacturers and kava suppliers are to stage a lobbying campaign to try to force kava, a herb taken to combat stress, back onto the shelves of European pharmacies.
Kava is a traditional beverage that is consumed in the Pacific region and has become popular in other parts of the world for its effects on anxiety disorders and stress. However in the last two years it has been banned in countries including Germany, Switzerland, the UK and France, after reports that it had caused liver damage among consumers.
But a recent meeting of Pacific and European kava stakeholders concluded that such bans were 'probably unjustified'. The meeting, held at the end of August in Brussels, heard details of a comprehensive report by Berlin-based Phytopharm Consulting, commissioned bythe Centre for Development of Enterprise (CDE), which concluded that kava can be regarded as a safe and effective herbal medicinal product. It also found the measures taken by European health authorities to be inappropriate and unjustified.
An almost Europe-wide ban has led to severe economic problems for exporters of the herb on the four major kava-producing Pacific Islands,Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu. European companies have also suffered massive losses, according to speakers at the meeting, also attended by representatives from the WHO, European Commission and other trade organisations.
Dr Joerg Gruenwald of Phytopharm Consulting said: "It is a scandal how herbal products are treated. All synthetic products used in the same indications have a much higher incidence of toxicity or strong addiction potential. Kava is safe and effective proved by many studies compared tomost other drugs in this indication. Therefore, the situation has to be re-analysed."
A Pacific-European 'Kava Executive Committee' will be set up to coordinate a lobbying campaign aimed at re-establishing trade between the EU and Pacific. The group said it will request funding from the CDE and PROINVEST (an EU-funded organisation, charged with promoting investment in Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific regions) for Phytopharm to coordinate campaign activities in Europe. These will include providing national authorities with the Berlin company's scientific report on kava's safety. The WHO will also be asked to re-evaluate the report.
Other action plans involve a public information campaign to try to dispel fears of harm from kava products and circulation of the report to countries that have not yet banned the herb, to prevent further reduction in trade.
Anthony Bush, who attended the meeting on behalf of the European Health Product Manufacturers Association, said: "It is important that consumer choice is protected and that the public have the widest possible selection of herbal solutions available."