The European Commission has threatened to bring Germany before the European Court of Justice if it doesn't change the way in which it categorises garlic supplements.
Under the current German system, garlic and other supplements that are classified under food law in other European jurisdictions must be registered as medicines.
The EC sees this state of affairs as a violation of the principle of free movement of goods within the EU and has given Germany an ultimatum to change its laws or face the courts. In a statement, the Commission said it had "sent a reasoned opinion to Germany concerning the national authorities' practice of always regarding capsule-type products containing dried garlic as medicines, and thus subject to particularly bureaucratic marketing authorisation procedures, whereas the products concerned are more properly to be regarded as food products."
Germany's anachronistic herbal laws can be traced to a medical profession that has for decades advocated botanical remedies, according to Michael McIntyre, chairman of the European Herbal Practitioners Association. "The German system was established to accommodate a huge market where herbs were sold to doctors," he said, adding, "Even if this action doesn't change the way things are done in Germany, the Traditional Herbal and Medicinal Products Directive will."
Harald Dittmar, managing director of the German Association of Supplement Manufacturers, noted that some garlic supplements could be sold as food supplements, but only at very low doses. "When the product has a pharmacological function it is considered a medicine," he said. "It is a little confusing at the moment, but what is clear is that the old regulations are not adequate and that is why the EC has taken this measure. We welcome it because it will liberalise the market and reduce costs for manufacturers and consumers."