Letter: Herbal boom

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Sir: The article "More control sought on herbal cures" (23 March) suggests that stricter controls on herbal medicines should be imposed because of the "dangers of side effects".

This is unconvincing, as the accompanying table of "five popular herbal remedies" demonstrated - side effects are, in fact, very rare, very slight or non-existent. Any attempt to draw up a list of equally benign pharmaceutical drugs would be doomed to failure.

The real issue is as old as the free market itself, and concerns the sale of over-the-counter herbal remedies that make over-inflated claims for products that may be of poor quality and purity, and lack proper labelling. Safety is not the main issue. Ripping people off is. With the rise in interest in herbal medicine, unscrupulous producers are trying to cash in on the boom.

Legislation, if enacted clumsily, may throw out the baby with the bath water, and prevent responsible medical herbalists from practising. If this happens there is a risk that herbal medicines would become the sole domain of the worst profiteer of them all - the pharmaceutical companies.