Natural Foods Merchandiser

Canada cracks down on illegal hoodia

It seems Canada is tightening the belt on getting thinner.

According to the Ottawa Sun, Canadian federal wildlife and customs officials have stopped more than 2,000 shipments of the increasingly popular South African diet aid known as hoodia.

Hoodia gordonii is a succulent plant from South Africa and Namibia, traditionally used by tribesmen to curb hunger during multi-day hunting trips. In 2005, the plant was listed under Appendix II of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES. Companies trading in the plant must secure a CITES permit.

In Canada, Environment Canada and the Canadian Wildlife Service administer CITES, and, according to EC, no charges have been made, "but federal wildlife officers may charge importers who have not obtained the proper permits."

Thomas Greither, president of Flora Manufacturing and Distributing Ltd. in Canada and of U.S. branch Flora Inc., which sells a hoodia product, said, "The process of getting the certification is difficult. You have to work together [with a legal company.]"

Hoodia, as an endangered species, is also difficult to secure. "It's going to run dry, and whoever sells it, it probably won't be real anymore," Greither said. "It's kind of sad, because when people cheat, then people say the products don't work."

In a press release, EC asked that consumers ensure their hoodia order is being imported legally with the CITES permit. "Shipments without a valid CITES export or re-export permit will be detained by Environment Canada wildlife enforcement officers or by Canada Border Services Agency customs officers. Officers are not legally permitted to release products without the proper permit and an importer cannot obtain such a permit after the fact."

The American Herbal Products Association noted in a release that hoodia has "been erroneously referred to in the media and company Web sites as a 'cactus.' Hoodia is not a cactus; it is a member of the butterfly weed family (Asclepiadaceae)."

Since 2004, Unilever has had global rights to p57, a compound extracted from hoodia by U.K.-based Phytopharm. Phytopharm licensed rights to the product from the South African Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in 1997.

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVII/number 10/p. 20

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