A common complaint among those looking to add more natural and healthy alternatives to the marketplace, or to make existing regulations less stringent, is that the barriers to entry are usually very significant.
Why is that? As an old Dilbert comic once suggested: “Be careful of the successful. They do not want company.”
The incentives are certainly there that make potential entrants eager. One report expects the market for herbal supplements and remedies to exceed $93 billion in sales by 2015.
With a market that size, it was always unlikely that this industry would be able to quietly sail under the radar for years. Big firms have been entering the market for years, hoping to use brand recognition to capture their slice of the pie.
Of course, once they get in, they are certainly going to want to create a system that protects their position.
In fact, food and drug companies have every reason not to want to change the current structure of regulation. Millions of dollars are at stake, if not billions, and firms with money and legal determination can be expected to fight those who hope to enter their arenas and change things up.
That is part of the explanation for the increased regulation found worldwide. In the European Union (EU), for example, lax restrictions have been strengthened.
Now, the only herbal medications that can be legally sold in the EU are those that have been licensed, are well-established, and/or are prescribed by a registered herbal practitioner. Approvals of new products will only apply for those that treat minor conditions like colds, minor aches and pains, and sleeping issues.
The rationale is to protect public safety, particularly when the indiscriminate use of herbal medicines can undermine the effectiveness of prescription drugs, such as ginseng perhaps reacting poorly with blood-thinning drugs.
On the other hand, manufacturers claim that the licensing process can cost from $125,000 to $190,000, which is far too much for many firms to afford.
That leaves consumers with few options. They can search for different medicines, either herbal or conventional. Or they can turn to the black market, which ironically is far less safe because secretiveness and lack of accountability lead to fewer standards to count on.
Either way, this isn’t a field that encourages newcomers to join the market. Ironically, herbs that have been used to treat ailments for thousands of years and have been commonly available for nearly as long are suddenly poised to become far more difficult to find.
In retrospect, we can now see that our caveman ancestors were actually smarter about their health than we are today, at least when it comes to accessing natural remedies.
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