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The Practical Herbalist

Chinese Herb Safety

There has been a lot of press lately about dangerous products coming out of China. The question that is often posed by patients is... Can I trust the herbs that are coming out of China? The answer I give is that I trust the herbal products I get out of China more than I trust the herbal products that I can get out of the U.S.

The reason for this trust is because I understand the strengths and weaknesses of the current importation system. Many of the current problems with imports stem from lack of oversight. The Chinese government has never had any of the protection systems in place that we take for granted here in the U.S. Many companies forget this fact and buy through middle men, and brokers who are just trying to move product and don't care how it is made. For example, lead paint while banned in the U.S. is allowed in other countries, and the brokers don't care to pay attention to such details.

Many suppliers to the traditional herbal medicine market, understood these situations long ago and specifically set up their businesses to protect the consumers. There are problems in China with pollution and pesticides and preservatives that contaminate the herb crops. Processing is not always to international pharmaceutical standards. On the other hand many Chinese herb processors know how to process herbs better than their American counterparts. They follow traditional cutting, drying and cooking procedures to make sure that the herbs function as they should. Many American companies simply buy herbs from brokers and grind them raw and pack them into capsules.

The importer I use has a specific system for herbal products they sell. They have exclusive contracts with farmers, processors and factories in China. The importer inspects every aspect of the supply chain from planting to packaging. They require all the factories to be certified by Australian certification which is as stringent if not more so than U.S. standards. When the products arrive here in the U.S. they retest all batches before they sell anything. The importer has the economic clout to force farmers, suppliers and processors to do things right and to not cut corners.

This means then that all the herbs that are grown outside of this system, where there is no oversight to quality control, end up on the open broker market. There they are likely to be bought by processors who are not interested in quality, or they are passed on to the international market to be bought by the companies here in the U.S. Unfortunately those companies do not have the ability to truly control the quality of their products, and that results in the problems we are now seeing in the marketplace

David Bock

This article was from David's LakeCountryOnline.com column, "The Practical Herbalist"

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David Bock, C. Ac., Dipl. OM, FABORM
Wisconsin Certified Acupuncturist
National Board Certification in Oriental Medicine
Fellow American Board Of Oriental Reproductive Medicine

Bock Acupuncture & Herbal Medicine
888 Thackeray Trail #206
Oconomowoc, Wisconsin 53066