Old Cures Work for Some Jan04


Extensive scientific research has so far failed to find a cure for the common cold. At some stage in our lives we have all relied on traditional cures such lemon tea, steam inhalation with eucalyptus oil and menthol, a stiff brandy or a special grandma's recipe with honey. In every chemist and supermarket there is a wide range of medication, including homeopathic products, to relieve our symptoms.


Currently in Britain, there are no specific safeguards on the quality and safety of unlicensed herbal medicines, anyone can buy these products from unregistered shops. The labels neither declare potential adverse reactions nor interactions with other medication or food. Millions of people, especially the elderly, have used homeopathic products such as St. John's Wort, Echinacea and Rescue Remedy for many years. So far, there has not been any evidence of serious consequences to warrant any specific legislation. However, with widening global trade and a rise in untested suppliers, there has been a need to review the legislation to enhance public safety without denying easy and affordable access.


While there are cultural differences in the way Europeans self-treat minor ailments, the European Commission has tried to formulate legislation to 'harmonise' the production, distribution, and sale of homeopathic medicines across the 15 member states of the European Union. The original Commission proposal threatened to remove from the market those traditional herbal medicines which have been available for less than 30 years. In a plenary vote last month, the European Parliament successfully amended the Commission proposal, clarifying that products which had been on the market for a minimum of 15 years could continue to be sold in member states without the need for registration. All other products will require registration to ensure that labelling reflects accurately the ingredients, adverse reactions and possible interactions with food, drink and other commonly used medicines. The EU Directive also allows each government of the European Union, under the subsidiarity principle, to specify additional requirements to suit their local conditions.


I, supported by my Conservative colleagues, have been actively involved in the Parliament's Industry Committee to help formulate EU policy in this field, pressing for maximum consumer choice consistent with health protection. It is essential to ensure that the British people, who have benefited from use of a wide range of safe products, can continue to access them without additional hassle and extra cost. It is equally important to protect the public from unsound, untested products that can cause serious side effects. The amendments we were able to secure in the European Parliament are excellent news for constituents across West Suffolk. The threat to remove herbal remedies from our shelves has been avoided and we can continue to buy and use well known products that have enjoyed a safe history in Britain for years.