Colombia raises eyebrows at proposed restrictions on natural health products

Valerian (Photo: Fables and Flora)

Colombia’s Health Ministry has announced pending restrictions on a number of widely used natural health products, which are not restricted in any other country in the world.

Natural products on the proposed ban list

Valerian

A herb or dietary supplement prepared from roots of the white or pink flowering plant. Crude extract of the root is often sold in the form of capsules. Valerian root has a sedative and anxiolytic effects effects. It is often used for insomnia and anxiety due to its calming effects, but also for stomach cramps and colic. It FDA certified and sold as a nutritional supplement in the U.S.

Glucosamine

An amino sugar produced commercially by the hydrolysis of crustacean shells or, less commonly, by fermentation of a grain such as corn or wheat. Glucosamine is sold as a dietary supplement. It is generally used by people with joint problems or arthritic pain and stiffness. In the U.S it is one of the most common dietary supplements used by adults.

Echinacea

A group of flowering plants in the daisy family, also known as Coneflowers. They grow naturally in north America and are often grown not just for their supposed medical purposes but also for their beautiful flowers. Although there is no scientific proof to verify this, they are often used to treat the common cold and to fight cancer.

Representatives of the Ministry of Health and INVIMA,the Colombian government organisation which controls health and food products, met this week with Colombian naturalist Federation (Fenat) and the National Association of Naturalists (Asonatura) to negotiate new legislation which may require a doctors prescription for commonly used herbs and flowers contained in many natural health products.

More than 40 plants and natural products such as Valerian, Glucosamine and Echinacea, all of which can be bought legally in the United States, are set to become restricted products, available only to those who first seek a medical prescription from a doctor.

Naturalists object to restrictions

Yahel Bibiana Bueno Pineda, executive director of Fenat said “With these measures the Colombian government is restricting the production and consumption of natural products, a fact that undermines the innovation and development of a global growth market. It is also wasting a very attractive alternative to discourage illicit crops that have done so much damage and taken so many casualties in our country”

“The unequal treatment of the pharmaceutical industry compared to the natural industry is obvious. The latter is shackled and receives complex demands on their production processes and marketing. What is more serious is that these demands are against the traditions and culture of a country…. will we end up needing a prescription to drink an aromatic tea?” added the naturalist.

As reported in El Pais, supporters of natural medicine argued that the use of plants and herbs is an important part of Colombian history and culture, and that the government was imposing unfair restrictions on the world of natural medicines, while facilitating the growth of synthetic pharmaceutical production and opening the doors to recreational drug legalization in the country.

The most well-known natural products that may need a doctor´s prescription for a specific medical condition have been used worldwide for a number of ailments and illnesses in some cases for hundreds of years.

Supporters of Natural medicines state that production and cultivation of the plants used generates 50’000 jobs in Colombia, with 9000 stores, 250 dealers and 37 laboratories working relying on the sales of these products.

It is argued that restrictions on natural protects would greatly diminish Colombia’s standing in the international market.

Government responds

In a press release from the 4th September 2014, INVIMA responded that while one of the main aims of the organization is to support the domestic market of products in Colombia, that the health and well-eing of Colombian citizens must be protected, and thus the products must be monitored and regulated.

INVIMA state that of the 196 plants used in Colombia in natural products, only 59 of these may need to be restricted to sale with medical prescription.

It was also said that not all of these 59 plants would be restricted, only those which stated a need for prescription on the packaging. It is claimed that this is due to some of the plants having side-effects which could lead to delirium or physical dependence if taken too frequently or at too high a dose.

The negotiations between INVIMA, the Ministry of health and the pro-natural medicine organizations are ongoing. After the first round of meetings, Bueno Pineda said to W Radio that the representatives of INVIMA had been receptive to their arguments and that they expected an official response and outline of measures within one week.

Sources

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