|The objectives of the project “Good Practices for Plant Identification for the Herbal
Industry” is to develop effective, practical tools for industry members to accurately
identify medicinal herbs. The practice will also establish the groundwork for effective
traceability of raw materials starting at the production level.
The target audience for this methodology is first and foremost the producers and wild
harvesters of medicinal herbs. Numerous commentators on the industry stress that the
production end of the value chain for medicinal herbs provides the best potential for
addressing the challenge of accurate plant identification.
Tadmor et al.(2002) stress that “… authentication of the plant identity at the grower/supplier end is unquestionably the
most effective means of promoting quality, accuracy, and consistency of the botanical products”. However, this recognition must be contrasted with the lack of progress in the area. As McCutcheon (2002) points out, Since 1974, the WHO has asserted that the single greatest improvement in botanical quality would be the implementation of a program for the certification of botanical identity…. The fact that after more than 25 years, such a system has not yet been developed even though the technical requirements are minimal is indicative of the challenges involved.
At the same time, McCutcheon notes that the trend towards the establishment of organic certification procedures and guidelines, and Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) for medicinal plants (World Health organization, 2003) suggests that the time may be right for the development of a certification model(s) for plant identification.
The Natural Health Products regulations that went into effect on January 1, 2004, will create additional pressure on the production end of the value chain (growers and collectors of wild product) to meet the demands of the processors/manufacturers for safe and traceable products. If followed, a practical plant identification practice for growers and collectors will play an important role in ensuring producers have on-going – and hopefully improved – access to the markets for their products.
The secondary audience for the plant identification practice are manufacturers of herbal medicine products. Manufacturers will obviously benefit greatly from access to a supply of reliably identified raw material for use in production. Manufacturers also have an important role in both rewarding and demanding accurate plant identification from their suppliers. This ‘push pull’ effect has the potential to create more widespread use of proper identification practice for herbs. The stakes are obviously high for manufacturers. Not only are the potential benefits of proper identification significant, but manufacturers may also stand to lose the most (in terms of liability and loss of potential future sales) from misidentification leading to product contamination.
Development of the plant identification practice is a part of a larger initiative to build a HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point) based Good Agriculture Practice model for the herb and spice industry in Canada. The HACCP model identifies issues that must be addressed to ensure product safety, but stops short of developing the actual practices used to address these issues. The plant identification practice developed in this project will be incorporated into and form a key part of the HACCP Production Manual for on farm food safety being produced for the Herb and Spice industry.
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