UK Dept of Health report on herbal medicine regulations

The UK Department of Health just released a report entitled Advice on regulating herbal medicines and practitioners for the purpose of advising the government on the regulation of herbal practice. The Herbal Medicines Working Group, the responsible party, seems to not have included all stakeholders (with the exception of a few Ayurvedic practitioners). None of the NIMH herbalists are listed as having any participation in the discussions.

One of the conclusions of this report: there is insufficient evidence to allow herbalists to self-regulate. Ergo they must be regulated. The situation in the UK is complex, and I leave my seasoned English colleagues to offer more insightful commentary. But this is clearly one more step among many that is stilfing and suffocating herbal practice.

In principle I like some aspects of the UK model. They classify herbal medicines into 2 categories, one to treat disease (it’s medicine, supported by traditional use or clinical data) and the other to support healthy functinioning of a system (it’s what we would call a dietary supplement). They are regulating accordingly–medicines and disease treatment are licensed, the others are not. But there have been ongoing issues around the regulation of the ‘unlicensed’ herbs and a progression of increased regulations without stakeholder engagement. So it ultimately doesn’t work very well.

This reminds me of an old adage from my first research director and mentor, Rudy Ryser of the Center for World Indigenous Studies:

If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.

As a group it’s importantly to proactively advance your interests in policy and law making, else you may be left on the defensive and hiding from regulatory bodies. I wonder if American herbalists will ever face the same and, if so, what we’d do about it.

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