Dr Ken Harvey, adjunct senior research fellow in the School of Public Health at La Trobe University, said the TGA should have acted on information it received in October, 2008, that many ginkgo products were being adulterated with other herbs yet being passed off as pure ginkgo.
"Consumers are currently purchasing products containing ginkgo biloba in the belief that these products have clinical efficacy," Professor Harvey said.
He accused TGA of failing to act despite its own testing revealing one third of products analysed contained dubious chemical compounds. The Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods lists more than 400 products. The TGA tested 20 products and found six to be adulterated.
"Surely sourcing cheap, adulterated ginkgo biloba from China and passing this off as the real thing is a breach of Section 52 of the Trade Practices Act, 1974 (misleading or deceptive conduct)," Professor Harvey speculated.
But TGA said as no ginkgo pharmacopeia was formally referenced, its hands were tied as the products were neither non-compliant or hazardous to public health.
"The TGA, in consultation with the peak industry bodies, has proposed that an additional condition of listing be imposed on all products on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods that contain ginkgo biloba preparations as an active ingredient, which requires a more comprehensive analysis of flavonol glycosides," said theTGA, regarded as one of the world’s strictest regulators.
But Professor Harvey remained unimpressed. "From their statement, it seems that the TGA is not concerned with product integrity, truth in labelling and promotion, nor the industry ripping off unsuspecting consumers by substituting clinically inactive adulterants."
The Complementary Healthcare Council of Australia advised its members about the adulteration and noted the Office of Complementary Medicines was proposing products carry additional labelling. Ginkgo is best known for its ability to improve mental function and raise energy levels.