Last week we talked about the new European Union laws banning hundreds of herbal remedies. Since a favorite saying of many Europeans is “The problem with you Americans is…” I feel no compunction giving you my opinions about the entire continent getting itself so thoroughly blindsided by corporate-political footsies.
Opinion One: The Unmanageable European Union (EU) and European Commission
It’s hard for us in the US to get a handle on Europe, even though many of us still enthusiastically trace our roots to some now-extinct country, like Bohemia. There are currently 27 countries in the EU.
To understand what this means, try to imagine any 27 of our states, each with its own culture, language, and government, and historically treating its neighbor by invasion and murder. It’s hard to fathom travelling, say, from Illinois to Ohio, thinking how your grandfather was killed in the “Ohio-Illinois War,” or needing to “brush up on your Ohio-ese” to order dinner in Cleveland.
Now try to imagine one single governmental organization for all 27 of these unique entities. This is precisely what the EU is, along with its law-making division, the European Commission. Information on the EU website is available in an astonishing 23 separate languages. Envision accomplishing anything useful in such chaos—it might be easier to organize a herd of 27 cats.
With so much power, and no one really sure what’s going on, the European Commission becomes vulnerable to all sorts of influences. When the EU started to run things, Big Pharma, the world’s largest government lobbyist, realized it no longer had to concern itself with 27 separate governments. It set its sights on this single mammoth organization and quickly smelled the meat a-cookin.’ Long before Big Pharma rigged up the plan to ban herbs, which has been in the works for several years, the European Commission had already been accused of unseemly intimacies with several of the companies (most of which have their world headquarters in Europe).
Opinion Two: Europeans Think Differently Than We Do
There’s another important difference between our government and the EU. Unlike our constitutional guidelines, the European Commission lacks a good system of checks and balances. The village herbalist in Sicily will discover she can’t get the ingredients for her health tonic and there’s no one to complain to. She’s too small, they’re too big, plus too far away. The EU is about as available to hear her protests as the moon.
As an example of our system of checks and balances: When the FDA (under pressure from Ayerst, maker of the hormone replacement drug Premarin) started moving to ban both bioidentical hormones and the compounding pharmacies that mix them, enraged women nationwide began a letter-writing campaign to their congressmen that would have done the National Rifle Association proud (“You can pry my bioidenticals out of my cold dead hands!”). The congressmen, famous for gummy-bear spines, quickly capitulated, and the issue seems to have vanished.
Equally important is the nature of the average European and his predisposition to compliance, obedience to authority figures, and just generally rule-following. Why did it not surprise me that the first countries to obey this herbal ban directive were the UK and Germany? Neither was I surprised that those least interested in the directive were Italy, Spain, and the Eastern European bloc.
The United States of America was created by an international mix of immigrants who simply could not accept mindless authority. They so disliked following rules that they packed up from where they were and moved here. Individual rights will define and permeate our culture to the end of time. We Americans simply don’t like being told what to do–even if it’s good for us, like wearing a motorcycle helmet. Those who remained in Europe were the polite, conservative, and obedient members of society. Of course, as events of the 20th century played out—i.e., two world wars and the Holocaust–it became clear that too much rigid obedience can lead to serious trouble.
So now, by a ruling of the European Commission, herbs are banned and supplies are dwindling. Totally banned forever, unless the law is overturned, are all Chinese, Japanese, Tibetan, Ayurvedic, South American, and African herbal blends. To the delight of Big Pharma the UK and, later, Germany will allow each banned herb to be returned to market after Big Pharma receives a special license from the MHRA (Medical and Healthcare Regulatory Agency), this special license currently priced at about $250,000 per herb. Of course, this makes it affordable only to Big Pharma and not to the European counterparts of small herb companies like our Eclectic, Gaia, or Wise Woman Herbals.
This approval/licensing principle is virtually identical to that used to obtain a New York City taxi medallion, currently priced at $750,000 and well beyond the means of your average cabdriver, which has sent cab fares skyrocketing. Beneath the medallion, the car is still a Ford. Beneath the $250K MHRA approval, it’s the same bottle of St. John’s wort, soon to be sold at ten times the current price.
A potentially even greater threat is that this legislation hands over to Big Pharma all future herbal discoveries. The total number of plant species on earth is roughly estimated to be about 350,000. Currently, a tiny fraction of one percent is being used for medicinal purposes. However, herbalists have been exploring isolated areas worldwide looking for fresh medicinal possibilities and seeking out new uses of old standbys. The potential number of herbal combinations is staggering. With this ruling, each and every new discovery, whether a single herb or a blend, falls into the lap and the financial coffers of Big Pharma.
There is a glimmer of a protest going on, however. You can find a petition to sign by clicking here.
As a rule, the EU thinks of itself as everyone’s nanny and ignores protests. You sort of wonder if an entire continent can be nannied to death. The petition itself is a great example of closing the barn door after the horses have fled. If they could get away with it, the EU-Big Pharma coalition would likely enjoy printing out thousands of hard copies of this petition with all the signatures, pulping everything into toilet paper, and sending one small roll to each signer.
The roll would need no accompanying instructions.
David Edelberg, MD