Label heavy metal

Herbal products for exports will have carry additional info

By Vibha Varshney
Published: Wednesday 30 November 2005

the department of ayurveda, yoga, unani, s iddha and homeopathy (ayush) under the Union ministry of health and family welfare (mohfw) recently issued a notification making it mandatory for manufacturers of herbal products to mention on containers that the amount of heavy metals is 'under permissible limits'. The mohfw said that environmental pollution and unsatisfactory agricultural and collection practices in medicinal plants lead to high levels of heavy metals in products. The notification will come into effect from January 1, 2006.

This notification came after a controversy regarding high level of heavy metals in Indian traditional medicines in the international market. Interestingly, this controversy pertains to the presence of heavy metals in products that are not purely herbal, but those in which heavy metals have been added deliberately to enhance their medicinal value. But the notification deals only with purely herbal products, being exported from the country as dietary supplements.

The notification directs manufacturers to certify that heavy metals such as arsenic, lead, mercury and cadmium are within the limits set by the World Health Organisation. Manufacturers who do not have in-house laboratory facilities, will have to get these approved by a drug-testing laboratory.

But manufacturers feel this notification might reduce exports rather than increase them. "It would be very difficult to make heavy metal free products as the raw materials are themselves contaminated. And once these products are off the shelf in the international market, it might be difficult to reintroduce them," says a manufacturer. This step would not help in making the traditional systems of medicine acceptable in industrialised countries. So experts feel, instead, protocols to assess the safety of products containing heavy metals would be more relevant.

The notification at present is applicable only to exports, leaving the Indian consumer at risk. Also, even if manufacturers get their products tested, there is no authority to test whether they are complying with the standards.

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