Botanicals sector leaders have welcomed a European Court of Justice judgment against Spain for not applying the principle of mutual recognition in its policy on botanical food.
The European Commission took action against Spain in relation to its practice of systematically considering products that contain herbs as medicinal, despite these products being lawfully manufactured in other member states as food supplements.
The Commission's view, subsequently backed by the ECJ judgement, was that the process of the Spanish authorities to classify such products as medicinal was incompatible with the principle of the free movement of goods.
"This judgment is a huge step in the right direction for mutual recognition," said Patrick Coppens, secretary general of the European Botanical Forum. "It confirms once again the very specific criteria that member states must respect when making the distinction between food use and medicinal use of herbs. It will mean a substantial support for companies that are confronted with similar practices in other Member States."
The Court of Justice's final decision held that substances that did not significantly affect the metabolism or change the way in which the body functions should not be classified as medicinal products by function.
The judgment stated: "The mere fact that one or more medicinal herbs are among the constituents of a product is not sufficient to permit the conclusion that that product contributes to restoring, correcting or modifying physiological functions by exerting a pharmacological, immunological or metabolic action."
Manfred Ruthsatz, EBF chairman, said the judgement confirmed the basic principle that it was not appropriate to apply medicinal product legislation to products that were not intended nor marketed to treat or prevent diseases, such as botanical food supplements intended to promote health.
?"Beneficial effects for health in general, such as those of botanical food supplements, are not sufficient to classify food supplements as medicinal products," he said.