Safety fears as herbal cures seized

JON WELCH An MP last night urged people to take care when buying herbal medicines after trading standards officers and police swooped to seize potentially illegal and unsafe products in a series of spot checks across Norfolk.

JON WELCH

An MP last night urged people to take care when buying herbal medicines after trading standards officers and police swooped to seize potentially illegal and unsafe products in a series of spot checks across Norfolk.

Medicines believed to be derived from endangered species of orchid and deer, along with creams that could contain steroids, were among the items seized from 14 herbalists and alternative therapists across the county over the past two weeks.

Similar checks carried out last year found some herbalists in Norfolk selling dried squirrel faeces, used in herbal tea infusions; aristolochia, a herb administered in tablet form that can cause liver and kidney failure; herbal “Viagra”, the active ingredient of which can pose a serious health risk to people with heart conditions; and medicines that should only be prescribed by a qualified GP.

Norman Lamb, Liberal Democrat health spokesman and North Norfolk MP, backed the checks and said: “I welcome the tough line that is being taken.

“It will be horrifying if products made from endangered species are being sold.

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“The main thing is to ensure the legislation we have is enforced. We need to ensure people who use these products are safe and that there is no health risk involved, and secondly we need to make sure that there is no unlawful, illegal or improper use of endangered species, whether flora or fauna.

“Ultimately, if people have concerns about products that they are buying they need to seek advice from their GP.”

The latest inspections were carried out in Norwich, Dereham, Swaffham, south Norfolk, King's Lynn and Yarmouth as part of a countywide initiative.

The checks also involved Norfolk Police, the MHRA (Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency), environmental health officers and the National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU), all of which share responsibility for enforcing rules governing Chinese herbalists and alternative therapists.

Products were seized for further testing by the MHRA and police from six of the 14 premises visited. These include a suspected endangered orchid species and musk oil, which comes from the endangered musk deer.

Trading standards officers also took 14 samples of food for testing. All the products seized will be sent away for analysis. If they are confirmed to contain illegal or unsafe ingredients, the traders responsible could face prosecution.

David Collinson, head of Norfolk County Council trading standards, said: “More and more consumers are seeking alternative products and treatments to supplement conven-tional healthcare methods.

“While the majority of practit-ioners operate safely and within the law, we were concerned that this trade sector was not being monitored closely enough, compared to other highly regulated medicine and food industries.

“As a result, we are working together with businesses, the industry's trade associations and other enforcement agencies to improve compliance among the county's alternative medical practit-ioners, so consumers can feel confident that whatever they buy is safe and legal to use.”

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