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Time is running out for makers of herbal medicines to register their products under the new EU directive, which means any that haven’t been registered by next April (2011) will not be able to be legally sold. That’s right.

What, you didn’t know? Well the EU directive has been a long time in the making. I was writing about it back in 2003. So to say herbal medicine manufacturers haven’t had enough time to prepare their case – or fight the new legislation – isn’t really fair.

Talking of fighting, I notice that herbal medicine fans are demonstrating today at the House of Commons in the Old Palace Yard (from midday to 4pm). But with the deadline so close, isn’t it a case of too little, too late?

If herbal medicine practitioners do not get statutory regulated by the time the directive on Traditional Herbal Medicinal products comes into force next spring, not only will those practitioners lose the right to prescribe many commonly used herbal medicines, but the public will also lose access to a wide range of herbal medicines currently available from practitioners. And that could force many herbal practitioners – as well as the people who make herbal remedies for them – out of business.

The Department of Health has recently consulted on the statutory registration of herbal practitioners, but the government apparently is dragging its heels on the subject (statutory regulation will not just regulate the profession but will also ensure that herbal medicines continue to be available to the public through those professionals). And with that EU deadline looming, it’s not looking good for herbal medicine’s future in this, and other EU countries.

Which would be a terrible shame. Whether you support the use of herbal medicines or not, you’ve got to admit that making them illegal (which, in effect, is what might happen) is crazy. What’s the world coming to when you can go out and buy enough booze or painkillers to kill yourself with (yes, I know painkillers are only available to buy in limited amounts now, but it doesn’t take a genius to work out how to get your hands on plenty more), but the only place you can get a packet of dried chamomile flowers is the black market? Well, I’m not sure it will be that extreme, but you get the idea.

But to leave making a noise about what will almost inevitably happen next year until the very last minute is also crazy. Has the entire herbal medicine community had its head in the sand for the last seven or eight years? Well, not the entire herbal medicine community, a few well-known (and well organised, you might say) herbal medicines manufacturers have complied with the new legislation’s requirements, so their products are as safe as they can be.

As for the rest, it’s just one big awful disappointment.