• In response to serious concerns being expressed by his constituents, the East of England MEP, Stuart Agnewhas attended a European Parliamentary meeting on alternative medicines (16.11.2010).
“Much to my surprise, I find that the EU is trying to define in law the difference between herbal remedies and food supplements, an almost impossible task,” Mr Agnew said.
The meeting, attended by David Tredinnick MP and Nils Behrndt, Deputy Head of European Commissioner Dalli's cabinet (Health and Consumer Policy), with responsibility for pharmaceuticals, medical devices and cosmetics, discussed the impending crisis being created by contradictory EU rules that threaten to take herbal medicines off the shelves, and render homeopaths unable to prescribe.
Mr Agnew promised that he would: “raise questions with the Commission, and do all I can to insure British patients are not deprived of the remedies that they and their practitioners choose, by unnecessary EU rules.”
Michael McIntyre, the Chairman of the European Herbal Practitioners Association, remarked on the vast implications of these new laws. They have already caused the London College of Traditional Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine into bankruptcy and closure this month due to lack of students, who fear they will have no future in the profession.
The EU is forcing alternative medicine producers to licence their merchandise via a product by product registration payment system with compulsory periodic licence renewal. This payment is, initially, between €50,000 (£42,500) and €150,000 (£127,000) per product, though other contributors to the meeting reported that, in Germany, it could cost up to €300,000 (£255,000) per product.
Mr Agnew said: “This product based approach quite clearly penalises small businesses, sole practitioners and both low volume and low cost product lines. The EU is creating a total shambles which will result in huge price increases, a black market, unhappy patients and practitioners, and the criminalisation of innocent people, many of whom will suffer the physical consequences of not being able either to obtain or afford the alternative medicines which keep them going.”
The Commission has divided alternative remedies into three categories.
1) The Commission claimed that herbal medicines have a well-established regulatory structure, but critics at the meeting said that it does not work, and pointed out that what is classed as a medicine in one country may also be classed as a food in another, such as turmeric, which is used in curries.
2) Homeopathic medicines are subject to EU quality and safety procedures, as are all medicines. But these remedies have been in use for up to 200 years, and the EU approval process is simply too expensive for manufacturers to consider.
3) Anthroposophic remedies have no regulatory procedure whatsoever, because a product based system cannot cope with medicines where the way in which they are used is just as important as the product characteristics. The Commission, rather confusingly added a fourth category. Vitamins and minerals which are known to be vital to health, are classed as food supplements. They are subject to a positive approval procedure in relation to health claims, which is not really designed for the complex effects of these products. Finally, it was noted that the Novel food regulations intended for GMOs are in fact catching very traditional botanicals coming from outside the EU, such as guarana, a classic example of perverse and unintended consequences from ill-thought through regulation.