Wales Reverses Kava Ban
The National Assembly of Wales as a result of a case brought by the UK's National Association of Health Stores, has reversed a two-year ban on the sale of herbal products containing Kava Kava. The decision came into effect at the end of October 2003.
Kava Kava, a root traditionally used to prepare a relaxing drink in South Sea island cultures, had become a widely used alternative to pharmaceutical anti-depressants in Europe until two years ago, when products containing Kava were linked - some say in a very superficial way - to cases of liver toxicity by Swiss and German health authorities and were subsequently banned in Europe as well as several other countries around the world.
Hawai'i is one of the principal producers of Kava Kava, and investigating what might have happened, a team of University of Hawaii scientists traced the kava-liver problem to extracts made from the peelings of the kava plant's stem bark which contain an alkaloid called pipermethystine. Preliminary test results showed that this alkaloid had a "strong negative effect" on liver cell cultures. Normally the stem bark is discarded but as demand for kava increased in the 1990's European extractors began purchasing the stem bark peelings and using the extract in kava products. Traditional kava drinkers only use the root of the plant which does not contain the alkaloid.
Dr. Joerg Gruenwald, executive director of the International Kava Executive Committee, is quoted as saying that he expects other UK regional governments to follow the lead of the Wales assembly.
Actress Jenny Seagrove joined the court case brought by the National Association of Health Stores.
Health Stores and Actress Take Government To Court Over Banned Kava-Kava Herb
A case brought by The National Association of Health Stores (NAHS) against the Government will be tried in the High Court in London, starting tomorrow (10.30am Tuesday 11 November). The judicial review has been brought against the Secretary of State for Health to overturn the ban on the sale or supply of the natural herbal product Kava-Kava, which was imposed in December 2002.
Kava-Kava is a traditional ceremonial drink from the Polynesian Islands that is used for relaxation. Actress Jenny Seagrove, who uses Kava-Kava preparations for relaxation and stress-reduction, has joined the NAHS in its action.
The case now relates only to regulations passed in England. Equivalent Welsh regulations have already been withdrawn after the National Assembly accepted that they had not been passed lawfully.
The NAHS says that possible concerns about the safety of Kava-Kava should be addressed in the same way they are with other foods and medicines, with warning labels. The Association's membership has been forced to withdraw Kava-Kava from sale in products such as teabags and as a constituent of natural remedies for stress.
Holland & Barrett, the UK's largest health store retailer, is assisting the action. In 2001 it sold nearly 200,000 units of products containing Kava-Kava, prior to the withdrawal. The annual UK market for Kava-Kava products is estimated to have been worth approaching Â£7.5 million.
Kava-Kava was banned following reports that 81 people taking it (often in very high doses) have suffered adverse effects, though the link has not been proved. There are an estimated 250 million people around the world using the herb each year. However, academics say that in nearly all cases the adverse effects have not been definitely attributed to Kava-Kava and in most cases were associated with liver damage from alcohol or pharmaceutical drugs.
Ralph Pike, Director of the NAHS, says: "Any risk from a herbal product should be investigated, but the Government has over-reacted. To ban products containing Kava-Kava because of the very low incidence of unproven risk is disproportionate and unacceptable when products such as alcohol, tobacco and even peanuts are all more harmful but are freely available.
"A proportionate measure to protect consumers using this herbal remedy that has been relied upon for thousands of years would be to apply warning labels, as our industry voluntarily did recently with St John's Wort, another well known herbal remedy."
Andrew Lockley, partner at national law firm Irwin Mitchell, acts for the NAHS and Jenny Seagrove. He says: "This challenge is based on many legal grounds. It seems that the regulatory bodies for food and medicines (the F-S-A and the MHRA) both separately failed to follow the right procedures when they decided to recommend a ban to Ministers and to Parliament. The agencies apparently did not tell Ministers or Parliament full views of the leading academic expert, on complimentary medicines, (Professor Edzard Ernst, of the Peninsular Medical School at the University of Exeter) who had opposed a ban on scientific grounds.
This case may raise general questions about what specialist bodies should tell Ministers or Parliament before decisions are made.
"It also seems that the Food Standards Agency simply followed what the Medicines Control Agency was doing without any evidence at all of risk from Kava-Kava used in teabags or other food products." says Andrew Lockley.
posted by Sepp Hasslberger on Monday December 1 2003
updated on Tuesday December 7 2010
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