By Kate Wharmby Seldman
A British agency is marking herbal medicines with a special leaf logo to show they are safe for use. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, or MHRA, will implement this new policy on May 1.
The MHRA is taking these measures to meet demands laid out in a 2004 EU directive to make sure herbal medicines don’t contain harmful toxins. All medicines will have to meet new standards to ensure they are free of dangerous heavy metals, toxic plant extracts or banned pharmaceutical ingredients. The policy also requires that herbal remedies be sold with information leaflets containing dosage advice and listing potential side effects.
MRHA’s head of herbal medicine policy, Richard Woodfield, said many people were “under a misapprehension that all herbal medicines are safe,” – in fact, MRHA conducted research in 2009 whose results showed 58% of surveyed Britons thought herbal medicines were safe because they were natural. The MHRA study also showed that 26% of British adults have taken an herbal remedy in the past two years.
The new policy, Woodfield said, fulfils MRHA’s duty to make sure “that medicines and medical devices work, and are acceptably safe.” Many doctors worry, however, that the new MHRA labeling will still fool people into thinking that herbal remedies work as well as traditional medical treatments, and that they are also as thoroughly tested.
Some smaller herbal medicine companies complain that the new requirements are too expensive to meet, and that they’ll go out of business while larger companies will be able to thrive.
As of mid-March, the MHRA had received 198 applications to register herbal products under the new guidelines, and 99 had been approved. Echinacea, St. John’s wort, and valerian were among the ingredients already registered.
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