The survey and subsequent report, conducted by Ipsos MORI and using both quantitative surveys and discussion groups, sought opinion on safety issues arising from usage, the regulation of herbal products and how the public obtains information about herbal medicines.
The UK, like most of Europe, has had a herbal medicines registration scheme in place since 2005 when the Traditional Herbal Products Medicines Directive (THMPD) came into play across the European Union’s then 25 member states (now 27).
This had the effect of making it more difficult and costly for herbal medicines to achieve market registration – although products have until 2011 to pass through the process. More than 50 products have signed up for registrations in the UK so far. About 25 of those have been approved and none have been rejected.
UK herbal medicine manufacturer, Bio-Health, welcomed the findings.
“It’s not surprising that 77 per cent of the people surveyed, agreed that it is important herbal medicines should be regulated,” said June Crisp, marketing director at Bio-Health, which has been through the registration procedure at least once.
“You cannot assume that just because a product is plant based that it won’t harm you. And it will only benefit you if it’s the right part of the right species of plant, processed in the correct way."
The positive results of the Ipsos survey come despite many sections of industry and the public criticising the THMPD as a tool that will decimate the herbal products industry.
But Richard Woodfield, group manager for herbal medicines at the MHRA said: "We welcome the findings of this research. The research shows that the public clearly see a need for herbal medicines to be regulated. However, we are not complacent and acknowledge that the research also shows that the MHRA has challenges ahead.”
Some 58 per cent of recent users of herbal medicines (defined as those who have used a herbal medicine within the last two years) agree with the statement that “herbal medicines are safe because they are natural”.
Woodfield added: “This means that the public still remains vulnerable to some of the less responsible operators who peddle low grade, and sometimes, dangerous herbal products – portraying them as natural and safe whilst failing to meet any meaningful standards of safety, quality and consumer information.”
Other findings included the fact 35 per cent of adults have used a herbal medicine, and 26 per cent of adults have used a herbal medicine in the past two years. Just under 80 per cent of users of over-the-counter (OTC) herbal medicines have used an OTC herbal medicine within the past two years.