[MPWG] WHO Good Agricultural Practices - AP Report

Patricia_DeAngelis at fws.gov Patricia_DeAngelis at fws.gov
Fri Feb 13 09:19:33 CST 2004

Here's what's being reported over the wire (Thanks

WHO Issues Guidelines on Herbal Medicines

.c The Associated Press

GENEVA (AP) - The U.N. health agency on Tuesday issued advice to
governments around the world on how to ensure that the $60 billion herbal
medicine business is safe and sustainable.

``There is a huge increase in this market. Many people are paying a lot for
traditional medicines, and some insurance systems have started to reimburse
(for) traditional remedies,'' said Dr. Hans Hogerzeil, acting direction of
essential drugs and medicine for the World Health Organization.

``At the same time, this is an area where it is sometimes difficult to
regulate properly and get safety assurance for patients.''

Medicines derived from plants, such as ginseng and echinacea, are becoming
increasingly popular in rich countries and continue to be widely used in
the developing world.

But the increase in popularity has been accompanied by an increase in the
number of reported cases of damage to health from use of herbal medicines.

One cause is incorrect identification of plants. In the United States in
1997, people suffered serious heart problems after digitalis was
accidentally substituted for plantain in dietary supplements. Fourteen
cases of poisoning also have been reported in Hong Kong where the wrong
root was used to produce an antiviral medicine.

Other problems include the use of poor quality plants, poor collection
practices and the adding of other medications - such as steroids - to
herbal remedies.

The growing demand also has led to fears that plants could be wiped out by
unsustainable harvesting. Wild ginseng is reported to be declining rapidly,
and other plants in danger include goldenseal, echinacea, black cohosh,
slippery elm and kava kava.

The bark of the Pygeum, or African prune, which is used widely as a remedy
for prostate disorders in southern Europe, can be cut without damaging the
tree. But harvesters are taking too much and killing the tree, or simply
cutting down whole trees.

WHO looked at the guidelines used in China, Japan and the European Union as
a base for developing its own recommendations.

The 72-page document covers cultivating, collecting and classifying plants,
with recommendations on quality control, storage, labeling and

``If we want to preserve the environment and if we want to preserve and
sustainably supply these medicines in the future, we have to regulate that,
in one way or another,'' Hogerzeil said.

02/10/04 10:05 EST

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press. The information contained in the AP
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distributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press.
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Patricia S. De Angelis, Ph.D.
Botanist - Division of Scientific Authority
Chair - Plant Conservation Alliance - Medicinal Plant Working Group
US Fish & Wildlife Service
4401 N. Fairfax Dr., Suite 750
Arlington, VA  22203
703-358-1708 x1753
FAX: 703-358-2276

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