In the wake of a number of cases of serious harm caused by herbal medicines

Among Charles Windsor’s letters to governments released the other day were those about “herbal remedies.” Charles Windsor, with no scientific training, feels qualified and entitled to influence public policy on medical issues.

Tony Blair agreed to postpone implementation of new EU rules restricting the sales of herbal medicines in the UK after lobbying by the Prince of Wales in February 2005, letters published on Wednesday reveal.

The then-prime minister told the prince, who had given him “sensible and constructive” contacts in the herbal medicines world, that he would be “consulting with your colleagues and others” on the best way to bring about changes to the planned implementation of the EU directive on herbal medicines.

“We simply cannot have burdensome regulation here,” wrote Blair to the prince on 30 March 2005.

Oh quite; what possible reason could there be to regulate medicine of all things? It’s not as if anything labeled medicine can ever be harmful, or on the other hand inert and useless. If the label “medicine” is on it it’s flawless, so there’s no need for burdensome regulation here.

The EU directive was passed in 2004 in the wake of a number of cases of serious harm caused by herbal medicines, which were freely available to buy.

Piffle. Stuff and nonsense. It’s some sort of effete Continental squeamishness that makes them think any serious harm was caused by herbal meds. That simply can’t happen, because “herbal” means benign and beneficial.

The prince appears to have raised his concerns first with the former health secretary, John Reid, although no letter from the heir to the throne to Reid has been made public. Reid’s response, on 11 February 2004, is short and to the point. “Following our previous discussions on integrated health,” it opens, “I agreed to provide a note on the outcome of my Department’s recent consultation document on the statutory regulation of herbal medicine and acupuncture.” The document shows strong support for the regulatory proposals, he says.

But the prince also spoke to Blair, who gave him a warmer response. On 24 February, at the end of a long letter to Blair on other matters, the prince mentions their brief discussion of the EU directive on herbal medicines “which is having such a deleterious effect on the complementary medicine sector in this country by effectively outlawing the use of certain herbal extracts.

“I think we both agreed this was using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.”

Blair had “rightly asked me what could be done about it,” the prince continued. His answer was to offer a detailed briefing document from the chief executive of the Foundation for Integrated Health, which the prince set up in 1993 to promote the use of complementary therapies outside and inside the NHS. He also promised a contact at the Herbal Practitioners’ Association.

It’s as if the man has never heard of the existence of quacks and fraud. It’s as if he thinks words and labels are magic, and declared intentions are identical to real intentions.

Blair wrote back offering help. Those people with whom the prince had put him in touch “feel that the directive itself is sound and the UK regulators excellent, but are absolutely correct in saying that the implementation as it is currently planned is crazy. We can do quite a lot here: we will delay implementation for all existing products to 2011; we will take more of the implementation on ourselves; and I think we can sort out the problems in the technical committee – where my European experts have some very good ideas.

“We will be consulting with your contacts and others on the best way to do this – we simply cannot have burdensome regulation here.”

Herbal products were not required to be authorised until 2011 in the UK or the rest of Europe. In the UK, they were also allowed to stay on the shelves for some years after that date if they were within their sell-by date. There was evidence of some stockpiling ahead of 2011.

I wonder if they considered bringing back leeches.


  1. johnthedrunkard says

    ‘In the UK, they were also allowed to stay on the shelves for some years after that date if they were within their sell-by date.’

    And who established a ‘sell by date?’ Is that when the sugar gets senile and ‘forgets’ the magic solution it was shaken and tapped with?

  2. says

    I wonder if they considered bringing back leeches…

    Superfluous. We’ve still the Windsors.

    (/Bm. Tsh.)

    (/In my defence, it pretty much wrote itself. Possibly less in my defence, my first line was more: ‘You are so uncharitable. Every time Prince Whosits opens his mouth I learn something… About the risks of sustained inbreeding.’)

  3. rjw1 says

    “I wonder if they considered bringing back leeches.”

    Actually leeches have a small but significant role in modern medicine.

    We really can’t blame Barmy Prince Charlie for the herbal “medicine” industry, there are other forces at work. My local pharmacy has an entire wall devoted to herbal pills and potions and vitamin supplements, it’s a nice little earner after all. I didn’t notice any homeopathic ‘treatments’, it’s probably only a matter to time.

  4. Omar Puhleez says

    The only duty the monarch has is to be an expensively dressed, housed and chauffeured lump of royal meat (sorry, figurehead) that stands in the way of anyone who might wish to sieze power. In that worthy cause, the Crown has had mixed success, both in Britain and abroad.
    Despite all that, with one foot in a bucket of New Age crap, and the other in his mouth, it looks like Chas. Windsor is on course to be the last king of England.
    The monarchy will be hard put to survive him.

  5. rjw1 says

    @5 Omar Puhleez,

    “Despite all that, with one foot in a bucket of New Age crap, and the other in his mouth, it looks like Chas. Windsor is on course to be the last king of England.”

    He could stand for election here in Oz.

  6. Pieter B, FCD says

    It’s a common misconception, but herbal medicine and homeopathy have very little in common. Homeopathy, once dilutions reach the Avogadro limit, cannot work. If it did, everything we know about physics and chemistry is wrong, spectacularly wrong. Herbal meds, on the other hand, at least have a plausible mechanism of action. It’s been recommended by numerous commissions that homeopathy be taken off the NHS, but likely due to the prince’s influence, it’s still paid for AFAIK.

    Consider “Barmy Prince Charlie” stolen. Thank you.

  7. says

    It was mentioned on Telly last night that the Gruiniad spent £0.5 million getting hold of thee letters.

    If they had give me a fiver I could have told them there would be some on Architecture, some on alternative medicine and some on nano technology turning the planet into grey goo. I would have saved them a fortune, that they could have spent on getting hold of letters from the lobbyists from big pharma , big oil and low taxes that actually make a difference.

  8. chrislawson says

    Danny Butts, nice Lomborg Shuffle. This story does matter. Alternative health costs billions of dollars a year, is mostly fraudulent, and because of a deliberate policy of non-regulation and non-monitoring, causes significant harms with minimal scrutiny. And beyond the issue of health, this matter raises serious constitutional issues about the power of the Prince in UK politics to influence important policies based on his personal kookiness. You’re absolutely right that there are other problems in the world, including big pharma, big oil, and tax gutting for the rich, but it’s pretty obnoxious to argue that a newspaper should not investigate an important topic just because there are other important topics. It’s not like the Guardian has pledged to publish stories on this topic alone for 2015.

  9. says

    Chris Lawson @10 I got as far as

    “Alternative health costs billions of dollars”

    If you cant even get my currency right, I’m really not bothered by your opinions on my monarchy.

  10. says

    Your monarchy? And your currency and your language (on a different thread) – it’s your day to be Special, is it?

    Or is it that it’s your day to hate everything American, and you’ve forgotten that Australia and Canada also use dollars. Given what you said to me on that other thread I suspect it is. It’s my impression that “your” monarch thinks she is the queen of all the people of the Commonwealth.

  11. latsot says

    Mr Windsor sells ‘medicine’ with the names of herbs on the bottles using one of the dozens of official-sounding titles he was given by virtue of being born. He lobbies government using that same platform to make it even easier for him to sell that bullshit to vulnerable people.

    And our government is only too happy to help.

    What is *wrong* with us? Isn’t that the very fucking archetype of corruption?

  12. says

    Ophelia @ 12

    And no I don’t hate Americans. I’m not going to say that some of my best friends are American, but the American tourists I’ve met in London have been some of the warmest and most polite people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting.

    And I am aware that Canadians and Australians use dollars but Charles isn’t writing to the governments of Australia and Canada, he was, ten years ago, writing to the government of the UK.

    ” It’s my impression that “your” monarch thinks she is the queen of all the people of the Commonwealth.”

    Um, she is. Its not a matter of opinion its kinda definitive.

  13. says

    “And our government is only too happy to help.”

    But they weren’t were they. All indications are that government ministers replied with”thank you for your concern, we will take it under advisement” before relegating the letters to the round tray.

    I have very little time for the man myself . On the few occasions I’m forced to think about him its with sympathy even given his vast wealth. Possibly because having no interest in vast wealth myself I can see how Little of the few really important things he has in life, freedom to marry the person he loved, a close and supportive family, a circle of friends who chose to be with him for him rather than an advantage, the ability to just walk away from something when it becomes too laborious to carry on.

    However, If you think that that sad individual is the head of a nefarious plot to subvert British democracy , can I interest you in a hardly used perpetual motion machine?

  14. says

    Opps just discovered that I need to correct my post @14.

    ER II is the Head of the Commonwealth but some countries have their own monarchy.

    How that works out when setting the table I have no idea.

    Whether the commonwealth is a worthwhile thing , I’m pretty ambivalent. Some of the governments are pretty shitty and I don’t like the idea of being associated with them. Other countries appear to get a great deal out of the student/cultural exchanges, although this may be limited to the elites I don’t really know. I suppose the best thing that can be said for it is it does little active harm.

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