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   May 14

Did Prince Charles’s letter lead Tony Blair to postpone herbal medicines law?

Tony Blair agreed to postpone implementation of new EU rules restricting the sales of herbal medicines in the UK after lobbying by the Prince of Wales in February 2005, letters published on Wednesday reveal.

The then-prime minister told the prince, who had given him “sensible and constructive” contacts in the herbal medicines world, that he would be “consulting with your colleagues and others” on the best way to bring about changes to the planned implementation of the EU directive on herbal medicines.

“We simply cannot have burdensome regulation here,” wrote Blair to the prince on 30 March 2005.

The EU directive was passed in 2004 in the wake of a number of cases of serious harm caused by herbal medicines, which were freely available to buy. It required herbal remedies to be authorised for sale – in the UK by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Authority, which licences conventional drugs.
Only herbs which had been in use in the EU for 15 out of the past 30 years would qualify, which ruled out some Chinese and Ayuvedic medicines. Remedies made of plant extracts rather than whole herbs would also be excluded. Campaigners also worried about the cost for small firms of preparing a dossier.

The prince appears to have raised his concerns first with the former health secretary, John Reid, although no letter from the heir to the throne to Reid has been made public. Reid’s response, on 11 February 2004, is short and to the point. “Following our previous discussions on integrated health,” it opens, “I agreed to provide a note on the outcome of my Department’s recent consultation document on the statutory regulation of herbal medicine and acupuncture.” The document shows strong support for the regulatory proposals, he says.
But the prince also spoke to Blair, who gave him a warmer response. On 24 February, at the end of a long letter to Blair on other matters, the prince mentions their brief discussion of the EU directive on herbal medicines “which is having such a deleterious effect on the complementary medicine sector in this country by effectively outlawing the use of certain herbal extracts.

“I think we both agreed this was using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.”

Blair had “rightly asked me what could be done about it,” the prince continued. His answer was to offer a detailed briefing document from the chief executive of the Foundation for Integrated Health, which the prince set up in 1993 to promote the use of complementary therapies outside and inside the NHS. He also promised a contact at the Herbal Practitioners’ Association.

Blair wrote back offering help. Those people with whom the prince had put him in touch “feel that the directive itself is sound and the UK regulators excellent, but are absolutely correct in saying that the implementation as it is currently planned is crazy. We can do quite a lot here: we will delay implementation for all existing products to 2011; we will take more of the implementation on ourselves; and I think we can sort out the problems in the technical committee – where my European experts have some very good ideas.

“We will be consulting with your contacts and others on the best way to do this – we simply cannot have burdensome regulation here.”

Herbal products were not required to be authorised until 2011 in the UK or the rest of Europe. In the UK, they were also allowed to stay on the shelves for some years after that date if they were within their sell-by date. There was evidence of some stockpiling ahead of 2011.

Source: The Guardian

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