Thursday, January 7, 2010

Ensuring the Safety of Chinese Herbs

By Mary Cissy Majebe, L.Ac.

Due to the arrival of toxic toys and foods from China into the United States, I would like to address the safety of Chinese herbal medicines for our patients. I will share information with you about how herb producers and manufacturers in the United States have been working to ensure the safety of Chinese herbal products.

First of all, for more than ten years, herbal manufacturers and Chinese medicine practitioners have taken steps towards ensuring a safe supply of Chinese herbal products. Aware of potential issues, Licensed Acupuncturists and herbal companies in the U.S. had already begun instituting procedures to ensure that herbal medicines were safe. This was done well before the recent crisis involving toys and foods from China, and the FDA’s new regulations for dietary ingredients, nutritional supplements and herbal medications.

Secondly, herbal companies in the U.S. carry product liability, which means they must have Certificates of Analysis for each herb product they offer for purchase. This verifies the identity of the herbs in order to prevent misidentification. This process also involves testing to assess any heavy metal toxicity or bacterial contamination.

Asia Natural is the primary company that supplies the Chinese Acupuncture Clinic with the herbs used for making teas. We have worked with this company for more than 20 years, and I have personally visited them in Berkley, California, where I was given a tour of their facilities. I left the factory reassured that the company was doing an excellent job supervising the growing of the herbs in China and following the testing guidelines for herbal products.

In June of 2007, the FDA published its final regulations. Called FDA cGMP, these standards require that each herb importer and manufacturer have documentation attesting to the identity and purity of the herbs it has imported into the U.S. from China. All raw herbs entering the U.S. must meet specifications, which include testing for active ingredients, heavy metals and bacterial contamination. These regulations are to be implemented June 25, 2009 or June 25, 2010.

Likewise, regulations have been published in China requiring cultivators to follow certain practices that minimize pesticide use and residues. In July 2001, China adopted the "Green Trade Standards of Importing and Exporting Medicinal Plants and Preparations." These standards provide for testing of organochloride pesticides, as well as heavy metals, bacteria and aflatoxin. Although pesticides of various types are used in growing some portion of Chinese herbs, detectable levels of pesticide contamination cannot be found.

In conclusion, thanks to a safety net of regulations from the U.S. and China, as well as the conscientious oversight and testing of American herbal companies, I feel comfortable trusting the herbal products available to our patients at the Chinese Acupuncture Clinic.