“I have no beef with the herbals industry and categorically deny that, as the letter implies, I am influenced by the pharma industry,” an emotional Elizabeth Williamson (pictured), from the University of Reading, told NutraIngredients this morning.
“I have been a champion of the herbal industry for 30 years and in my letter was simply voicing concerns about herbal products that it is my view are better regulated under the Traditional Herbal Medicinal Products Directive (THMPD),” the professor and Director of Clinical Pharmacy at the Uni of Reading continued.
“To leak something like this casts aspersions on my professional career and my department and implies I am inept and corrupt. I am crushed and devastated by it and haven’t slept in four days. You spend a lifetime defending herbal products and then this. I am seriously considering leaving the area.”
The ‘leak’ is Professor Williamson’s letter written to UK Secretary for Health, Andrew Lansley, expressing her view that most medicinal herbs should be regulated under the EU THMPD and not as food supplements.
The ANH published the letter on its website on Friday along with two open letters written by its executive and scientific director, Robert Verkerk, PhD, to both Professor Williamson and Lansley.
Those documents can be found here.
The ANH letter highlights what it views as Professor Williamson’s misconceptions of European food supplements law which it states are able to ensure the safety and efficacy of herbal products.
One part of the ANH's letter states: “…your position would seem to taint your scientific independence, and suggests that your primary concern is to protect one particular sector of the herbal industry with which you are likely to have close ties.”
Speaking with NutraIngredients, Dr Verkerk said his organisation had leaked the letter to bring into the public sphere the debate about the, “narrow line between herbal products used for medicine and wellness”.
“This is not meant to be a personal attack,” he said. “I would urge professor Williamson and anyone else to engage the issues raised in our letter.”
In it, Dr Verkerk wrote: “Backroom discussions between larger vested interests and government officials appear to have been the order of the day.”
He said the idea that almost all herbal products should be classified as medicines belied the fact many of them were not used as medicines but promoters of wellness, in the manner of food supplements. Only Echinacea and St John’s wort deserved exclusive THMPD treatment, he said of an EU Directive his group believes is too costly and discriminates against Chinese, Ayurvedic and other traditional medicines.
TheUK medicines regulator – the MHRA – has issued more than 10 warning letters to companies manufacturing herbal products it has deemed medicinal but lacking a THMPD license. Most of those were mailed more than 12 months ago but no enforcement action has as yet been taken and the MHRA has ceased to answer queries about its intentions in that area.
The ANH has announced its intention to challenge the THMPD in the courts and says one target in the case it is building is the UK Department of Health.
On its website, the group added of Professor Williamson's letter: "In the face of an ongoing campaign by certain phytopharmaceutical companies to portray herbal food supplements as a danger to public health and in need of yet more regulation – including questions in both Houses of the UK Parliament – Professor Williamson’s intervention was at risk of wielding a dangerous level of influence. Accordingly, we felt compelled to do something about this, exposing what might have otherwise been kept behind closed doors."