The European Union has decided to go ahead with its ban of herbal medicines, a majority of which is manufactured in China.
Hundreds of herbal remedies will be banned from sale in Britain next year. From May 1, 2011, traditional herbal medicinal products must be licensed or prescribed by a registered herbal practitioner to comply with a EU directive passed in 2004.
The directive, according to The Independent, was introduced in response to rising concern over adverse effects caused by herbal medicines.
The UK Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has issued more than a dozen safety alerts in the past two years. Herbal practitioners say it is impossible for most herbal medicines to meet the licensing requirements for safety and quality, which are intended to be similar to those for pharmaceutical drugs, because of the cost of testing.
According to the Alliance for Natural Health (ANH), which represents herbal practitioners, not a single product used in traditional Chinese medicine or ayurvedic medicine has been licensed.
In Europe, around 200 products from 27 plant species have been licensed but there are 300 plant species in use in the UK alone.
The ANH estimates the cost of obtaining a licence at between 80,000 pounds and 120,000 pounds per herb.
Under EU law, statutorily regulated herbal practitioners will be permitted to continue prescribing unlicensed products. But the Coalition Government and the previous Labour administration have delayed plans to introduce a statutory herbal practitioner register.
This means thousands of patients who rely on herbal treatments face being denied access to them.
Medical organisations, including the MHRA, have warned the measures may drive patients to obtain herbal medicines over the Internet - where risks are much greater.
A spokesman for the Department of Health said no decision had been made on a statutory register of herbal practitioners.