UK herbal players unite as government buckles under EU pressure

By Nathan Gray

- Last updated on GMT

UK herbal players have told ministers that the EU Traditional Herbal Medicinal Products Directive 'is not suitable for practitioner-prescribed herbal products'.
UK herbal players have told ministers that the EU Traditional Herbal Medicinal Products Directive 'is not suitable for practitioner-prescribed herbal products'.

Related tags Herbal medicinal products European union

An special interest group made up of leading players in the UK herbal industry has come together to request an urgent meeting with UK ministers amid reports that the government will back-track on its promises to regulate herbalists under UK rather than EU law.

The diverse group members, including herbal practitioner associations, suppliers and citizens, came together in a 'last-ditch' attempt to prevent the UK government from a U-turn on its plans after hints that it might be forced to reverse a 2011 promise to regulate UK herbalists by statute. 

The legislation in question is commonly known as the ‘herbalist’s exemption’ - which allows UK herbalists the right to prescribe unlicensed herbs to their patients following a one-to-one consultation.

In 2011 it was announced that the legislation would be transferred into The Human Medicines Regulations of 2012 - but the new Traditional Herbal Medicinal Products Directive would see this exemption cut out of law.

“The government’s promise appears to have come under a lot of pressure from the EU," ​said Robert Verkerk, executive director of the Alliance for Natural Health (ANH) International - who was lead signatory of the letter.

"Other Member States and European institutions like the European Commission and the European Medicines Agency don’t like the UK granting an exemption allowing herbalists to use unregistered herbal medicines as they see fit.”

On top of this, Verkerk suggested that UK ministers are under pressure from 'a small but noisy' group of skeptics that have been responsible for persistent attacks against natural medicine.

Meeting request

The group comprising 17 different organisations – including practitioner associations representing Ayurvedic, Chinese, Tibetan and Western herbal traditions – have now requested a meeting with ministers after the minister responsible for the legislation, Dr Dan Poulter MP, is said to have initially  'stonewalled' representatives from practitioner groups.

The letter suggests that the Traditional Herbal Medicinal Products Directive is not suitable for practitioner-prescribed herbal products - something that was recognised by the European Commission in its 2008 experience report. The group also stress the significance of a UK House of Lords Select Committee report, two UK Department of Health steering groups and a further two public consultations - all of which came out strongly in support of statutory regulation for herbalists.

The group now hopes that a united front will encourage the minister to hear its views and concerns, so that they may be taken into account prior to the government announcing its decision.

“Regulating a profession such as herbalism at a national level,” ​Verkerk said, “Will buck the trend towards ever-increasing Brussels control of health policy.  It will also enable one of the longest-lived and well-evidenced branches of medicine to flourish and respond to public needs and choices.” 

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