On September 8, 2002, representatives from acupuncture schools along the Eastern seaboard, from Boston to Washington, D.C., attended a conference in New York City to discuss the conservation of plants and animals used in traditional Oriental medicine. Eight schools sent representatives to listen to speakers from federal and state governments; the conservation community; and trade organizations involved in activities associated with the conservation of these species. Then, as promised by the agenda, the representatives rolled up their sleeves to develop recommendations of their own, defining ways the profession could move forward, in consensus, to protect plants and animals that are useful to healing.
Dr. Henry Lee, the keynote speaker and head of Chinese medicine developments at Middlesex University in England, opened the conference with a challenge to the audience. He acknowledged that, thanks to his association with the International Fund for Animal Welfare, he had become "converted." He now believed - and challenged the audience to do the same - that all Chinese medicine should be derived from plants rather than animals. He provided background on the development of his proposal to "kitemark" (or certify) the quality of products. He estimated that approximately 75% of herbal products that reach the United States are of poor quality. As a result of the negative news regarding herbal products, the European Union is trying to develop a third category through which to regulate, with traditional use qualifying products for approval. However, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is being excluded and labeled as a culprit because of its use of endangered species. The kitemark is intended to help TCM establish credible standards of safety and quality, with a Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) audit trail to trace materials to their source. Dr. Lee recommended combining resources at all levels of government, along with the public and private sectors interested in the future of TCM.
Dr. Richard Ko, of the California Department of Health Services, Food and Drug Branch, summarized his extensive activities working with importers in California. He emphasized the importance of two-way communication with industry, and called for the development of policies based on an understanding of TCM issues. He summarized the need for: 1) consensus on biodiversity and conservation; 2) global harmonization of regulatory processes; 3) insurance coverage based on quality/safety data; 4) well-characterized formulas and supporting research; 5) cooperation among regulatory agencies; 6) original research; and 7) enforcement, education and communication, as well as Good Management Practices and Good Agricultural Practices.
Presentations from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; World Wildlife Fund; Wildlife Conservation Society; International Fund for Animal Welfare; and WildAid, clearly laid out the status of wild animals and plants used in TCM. Participants learned about rhinos, tigers, turtles and other species, as well as the national and international protections that help ensure their survival in the wild. They also heard from industry members such as Andy Ellis of Spring Wind Herbs, who seconded Dr. Lee's proposal concerning the use of plants. Mr. Ellis observed that the Buddhists of the Tang dynasty used only plants; if they could do so, so could practitioners today. He also indicated that not focusing on the conservation of species now would only drive up the price of raw materials as they become increasingly rare. "TCM could become almost as unaffordable as Western medicine," he observed.
The American Herbal Products Association, a trade association representing several TCM industries, outlined a guidance document being created to assist with compliance with CITES and species conservation. After the AHPA's discussion, representatives of High Falls Gardens, which researchers the cultivation of Asian medicinal plants, presented information concerning the dwindling wild resources in China; the Student Garden Project, launched by High Falls in 2001 and based at several Oriental medicine colleges in the U.S.; and the prospects for domestic commercial production. Finally, Elizabeth Call, LAc, presented preliminary results of her survey of NCCAOM certified herbology practitioners for replacements of medicinals derived from protected and/or threatened species used in Oriental medicine.
With a variety of information to work with, participants divided into small groups comprised of all sectors of the community. They were asked to identify simple, practical steps that, as industry, government, conservation organization and school representatives, they could take individually and collectively to promote conservation. A wealth of good suggestions evolved, which were evaluated and narrowed to the following seven principles:
- Formalize a conservation curriculum to be taught in schools of acupuncture, which will lead to a test question on the national certifying exam.
- Identify and empower a cross-disciplinary working group to carry out identified actions.
- Review the mission and goals of collaborative partners to identify areas of commonality through which to work.
- Hold a cross-disciplinary national meeting on conservation of species used in Oriental medicine.
- Advance the development of global third-party certification of herbs used in Oriental medicine.
- Foster communications and good relationships among all parties, recognizing the significance of law enforcement to this process.
- Ensure cultural sensitivity and inclusiveness in all actions, while preserving the positive image and contributions of Oriental medicine.
Participants left the meeting with much more than a certificate to be used toward obtaining continuing education credits. They voiced their respect for their profession, and their commitment to sustaining the world's biodiversity as one aspect of the way they practice their profession. They also took the first steps toward developing an agenda that could be part of a larger national discussion of conservation issues associated with Oriental medicine, and they did this in consensus with each other as multidisciplined stakeholders in the earth's well-being. Based on the success of the conference, it has been suggested that the New York meeting become a template for regional discussions, culminating in a national discussion on this subject.
Editor's note: For more information on the herb survey or the conference, contact Ms. Call at (518) 692-3158 or by e-mail at . Information on the Student Garden Project is available from Jean Giblette at . Funding for the conference was provided by a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, with additional support from participating conservation organizations.