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Legislation, Regulation, Deprivation, Ruination - The Banes of Red Tape

© Kat Morgenstern, February 2006

Red Tape BureaucracyMuch has been in the news of late, regarding new legislation coming into force that is supposedly going to make alternative medicine safer by the power of 'regulation'. Bureaucrats of all nations are united in their fight against chaos threatened by evil weeds; protecting YOU against the unfathomable and untested effects of natural herbs that may be DANGEROUS to your health - after all, what are some 5000 years of empirical experience gathered by herbalists and healers around the world compared to a couple of laboratory studies done by real SCIENTISTS?

That is the rap that is supposed to intimidate consumers and deter them from trying herbal remedies in favour of the PROPER medicine. Yes, they are actually trying to claim that man knows better than nature and that chemicals concocted in a lab are much better for you than anything nature might have in store. The thing that worries those of us who remain sceptical towards modern scientific advance is the fact that lab science is unleashing a flood of chemicals into the environment (and our bodies) whose actions and interactions are practically unknown since they have not been around for very long. Time and again it is only in the second or third generation that grave genetic impacts of chemicals or pharmaceuticals become apparent. Interactions between the myriad of chemicals we are exposed to in daily life is an extremely murky water to explore - how are we to know which chemicals are causing the adverse effects if we barely know what toxic brews we are exposed to in the first place e.g. environmental toxins, household chemicals, preservatives, colourants...you name it, the list is frightening. Not to mention actual side effects from most drugs, which can be exceedingly unpleasant and at times quite hazardous, even in over the counter medications.

If it wasn't so sad it would be laughable, but the problem is that these legislators, haven't got a clue about herbs or about naturopathic medicine yet, they are in a position to legislate our rights away and dictate by what means we should be treated or allowed to heal ourselves. In their view, you shouldn't meddle with your body at all. The assumption is, science knows best what is good for you while you, the consumer, are far too ignorant to make decisions regarding your own health, better leave it to the experts (or those posing as such). Thus, when legislation is passed and your rights are taken away it is in YOUR OWN BEST INTEREST, you understand.

I wouldn't mind so much if the legislation that is being passed really made things safer, but in fact it doesn't. What seems to really be at stake here is not safety, but profits. In recent years the supplement market and herbal remedy market have sky-rocketed. More and more people are becoming disillusioned by conventional medicine and are looking for alternatives. Herbs and supplements are easily available over the counter and have claimed quite a sizable (and growing) slice of the medicinal products pie. The pharmaceutical industry is still one of the most profitable industries and many pharmaceutical companies have started to produce their own herbal products and supplement lines. So, its not that they don't see the potential or deem herbs useless, - they just want to exploit that potential for their own economic benefit. Lobbyists know what strings to pull in order to get legislation passed in their favour. What is best for them and their shareholders are maximum profits - which can be achieved by patenting and by marketing neatly packaged pills and lab made concoctions that contain active ingredients (preferably synthetic) rather than whole herbs, which are unprofitable since they can't be patented, and difficult to control. The rest is a PR exercise - 'Its all in your own best interest, government is looking out for you.' The mhra and FDA and EU commission are chiming in a surprisingly harmonious chorus. Meanwhile access to simple herbs, which should be considered as our birthright, is gradually eroded, undermined and abolished - banned from the sanitized sphere of 'modern civilization'.

So what can we do? Unfortunately many end users are barely aware of what goes on behind the closed doors of regulation committees - although they like to portray themselves as a 'public forum', the truth is, unless you belong to some kind of professional organization they don't want to talk to you, much less listen to you. The world of legislation is dreary and dull - the wording of all those regulation papers is designed to put you to sleep or loose you within a few paragraphs of contorted officialdom and labyrinthine wordiness. Perhaps we would have a better chance if we made our point loud and clear, but considering the harsh realities and the ensuing sense of futility most people prefer to use the ostrich approach and stick their heads in the sand (at least while herbs are still available and the problem is not so acutely felt) rather than running danger of desiccating their brains through overexposure to the stale air of bureaucracy.

It is a sad situation, but if things continue to go the way they are going now we may well loose over the counter access to many great healing herbs. It may be that the only realistic option left will be to literally go 'back to the roots' and grow or gather your own herbs. Naturally this approach restricts us to the herbs that will grow in our ecosystem (unless we have a lot of space and a conservatory/greenhouse). Of course, many people don't have the time, knowledge or inclination to follow this DIY approach and it also precludes remedies that require some sort of processing: who, for example, can distil their own essential oils, (especially since owning a still in many places requires a license), or make their own homeopathic remedies? For the moment we can still get these age old remedies, but it is getting harder. It may be almost too late to get involved. Doors are closing as more and more pieces of legislation are being passed. But, we do all have a voice and we might as well use it to preserve our rights and try to issue a wake-up call to the bureaucrats who so 'caringly' want to be in charge of deciding what is best for us. One of my favourite organizations that has taken this struggle on its shoulders is cropwatch.org, based in the UK. Please check them out and get involved. http://www.cropwatch.org/newsletter2.htm

Other resources:

European Medicines Agency
ESCOP -THE EUROPEAN SCIENTIFIC COOPERATIVE ON PHYTOTHERAPY
British Herbal Medicine Association
American Herbal Products Association

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This Article was originally published in the Sacred Earth Newletter. The Newsletter is a FREE service containing articles, news and reviews on all things herbal and/or ethnobotanical, with an approximate publication cylce of 6 - 8 weeks. If you wish to subscribe, please use the subscription box to submit your e-mail address.

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Please note that although all the references to edible and medicinal herbs are tried and tested, their efficacy cannot be guaranteed and has not been approved by the FDA. Furthermore, everybody responds differently to various plants, and adverse reactions cannot be ruled out. Historical information regarding poisonous plants is included for educational purposes only and should not be tried out at home. Everybody uses herbs at their own risk and thus must make themselves fully aware of their potential power. Any information given here is educational and should not replace a visit to the doctor should this be necessary. Neither Sacred Earth nor Kat Morgenstern accepts responsibility for anybody's home experimentation. Links to external sites are included as pointers to further resources - we do not endorse them or are in any way responsible for their content, nor do we thus verify that their content is accurate.