A post-festivity teaser for you: what do you get when you cross badly implemented European Union (EU) herbal medicines regulation with long-standing customers of a large company selling herbal products?

Got it yet? The answer is plenty of highly annoyed consumers – in a scenario that ANH long ago predicted was inevitable under the current terms of the Traditional Herbal Medicinal Products Directive (THMPD).

Prices up

Healthspan is an, Home shopping supplier of vitamins, minerals and health supplements” based in Guernsey (Channel Islands) and selling primarily into the UK. Until recently, it sold a wide range of manufactured herbal products that included milk thistle (Silybum marianum) and Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea) formulations that were, to judge by comments on the Healthspan blog, well respected by customers. Healthspan was also well liked by its patrons for its very competitive prices.

Since the full implementation of the THMPD last year, Healthspan has been forced to introduce a new range of herbal products that are registered under the Directive’s controversial scheme. To sell in the UK, all Healthspan’s herbal medicines now carry the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency’s (MHRA) required Traditional Herbal Registration (THR) mark confirming that they tick all the required boxes.

Compared with the older products, some of which are still available under MHRA ‘sell-through’ provisions, the THR herbal products carry much higher price tags. Predictably, customers are furious. Says ‘chrissyk’: “The last box [of Devil’s Claw tablets] was received in April, cost £7.95, and contained 120 tablets. This latest box cost £13.95 and contains only 60, so, a price hype of more than 300%!!” Vanessa Briggs-Firmin agrees: “I too am off to find an alternative source of Milk Thistle due to the ludicrous and outrageous price rise!” 

Quality down

At the same time, the dose of active herbal ingredients in the new products may have been reduced – but it’s impossible to say, thanks to the new regulations. Whereas it was previously possible for Healthspan to state the level of active ingredients in their product, "With the new formulation…our license only allows for a standardisation of the whole plant extract, not of the Hypericin [an active ingredient in St John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum)”. This new uncertainty has further irritated customers.

Predictable as the sunrise

Healthspan’s problems stem from two main directions. Firstly, expensive laboratory tests mandated by the THMPD’s complex quality control requirements greatly push up the cost of the end product. Secondly, many products have not received THRs, often because their ingredients don’t meet the eligibility requirements of the THMPD; for example,  having not been on sale in the EU for 15 years out of a total of 30 years’ sale worldwide.

You have to feel sorry for poor old ‘KirkH’, the Healthspan representative handed the poisoned chalice of explaining his company’s position to irate blog visitors. He and Healthspan are in a difficult position, courtesy of the EU; and however many times he explains that matters are largely out of their hands, to the customer presented with massive overnight price rises, it looks suspiciously like profiteering on Healthcare’s part.

Unfortunately, we suspect, such is the Catch-22 for many small- and medium-sized herbal product manufacturers across the EU.

Call to action

  • Write to your MEP and MP to draw attention to the ways in which the THMPD is affecting both consumers and the herbal products industry in the EU
  • Use the example of Healthspan and any others that you may be aware of. 
  • We’d be very interested to hear from members of the public who’ve had similar experiences, so please copy us in on any communication!


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