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‘Misleading’ herbal medicine labels are not necessary wrong

By RJ Whitehead , 25-Feb-2014

‘Misleading’ herbal medicine labels are not necessary wrong

Australia’s Complementary Healthcare Council has responded to a raft of media articles about alleged mislabelling of complementary medicines by pointing to the strict regulations herbal products must adhere to in the country.

The CHC’s response is to a study published in the Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine, which found that a number of herbal medicines appeared to show inconsistent ingredient concentrations between what was displayed on their websites, their packaging, and their product listings on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (ARTG). 

Questionable research

The study authors concluded that these herbal medicines did not meet the legal requirements for sale.

The problem with this study is that even the most reputable, high-quality herbal products on the market, on face value, may look to have inconsistencies, not due to nefarious business practices, but due to the different ways of expressing quantities of herbal ingredients, “ said Carl Gibson, chief executive of the Complementary Healthcare Council.

The study authors failed to recognise that the expression of herbal extracts, as required in an ARTG entry, can be quantified differently to the expression on the label or website for the product.” 

For example, a public summary in the ARTG might show the “input” amount of an extract, while the label and website may show its “equivalent” amount. Both forms of expression are correct and compliant with the regulations, Gibson said.

Importantly, these differences in expression of herbal extract do not equate to the consumer receiving more than the amount of herbal ingredient than what is stated on the label, nor would it mean any increase of risk to the consumer.”

Tight controls

With one of the most tightly regulated health food systems in the world, Australian companies must operate under strict safety and quality regulations set by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

However, Gibson stressed that consumers should be aware that complementary medicines purchased online from overseas are not subject to the same regulations as those enforced in Australia, and advised that such purchases should only be made on the recommendation of a qualified healthcare professional or from a reputable retailer.

The complementary medicines industry in Australia is governed by strict quality and safety criteria and consumers can have confidence in the quality of herbal, vitamin or mineral medicine they chose for their health and wellbeing,” Gibson added.

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