PRESS RELEASE: Safe use of botanicals in food supplements - Final EU Project Conference in Vienna

Vienna, 12 May 2014. An EU-funded research project is shining a spotlight on the benefits, risks and quality of botanicals. Some 30 international research groups worked in a multi-disciplinary consortium to investigate whether botanicals available as drops, capsules, lozenges, tablets and pills, for example, truly deliver on what they promise. The PlantLIBRA research project started in 2010 and ends in May this year. Some 110 experts from over 30 countries participate in the wrap-up event in Vienna, 12-14 May 2014 (plantlibra2014.icc.or.at). The event is managed by ICC, which is also a consortium partner in this EU funded project (www.icc.or.at/projects/plantlibra).

The 25 nations involved in the "PlantLIBRA" research project all pursued the same goal: to record the benefits and risks of botanicals and test the quality of the products available on the market. The experts involved also compiled a database that will make it easier for the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and other national authorities to assess botanicals.

Testing potency and toxicity

Botanicals, available as capsules, lozenges, tablets, pills and other similar dosage forms, are legally defined as foodstuffs and therefore subject to less stringent regulations than pharmaceuticals. Whether they offer any benefits, or may even pose risks, to consumers is the subject of the EU project that investigated a range of selected samples. "Whether a product actually contains the plant advertised on the package has not been tested in many cases. And it often takes a liability suit before we find out whether the active ingredients in a botanical product are effective or perhaps even poisonous" reports work package leader and Professor Emeritus at the Vetmeduni Vienna, Chlodwig Franz. The goal of this EU project was to shed light on this grey area. Various methods were developed and tested to anaylse the quality and safety of botanicals that are used in food supplements, including DNA analysis techniques that allow the exact identification of the plants used.

European products exceeded expectations

The researchers examined different products from all over Europe that contained passion flower, devil's claw, melissa, chamomile, valerian, calendula and ribwort. According to researcher Silvia Sponza: "All the European products we examined, including teas, pills, drops, powders and ointments, did in fact contain what was listed on the packaging. And the quality of the active ingredients was even on par with the quality standards that apply to pharmaceuticals."

The scientists also drew up a list of analytical laboratories in Europe, an important resource for the industry. This will make it much easier for botanicals manufacturers to select a competent lab to run analyses on their products.

Interviews with experts

The PlantLIBRA final conference is held in Vienna from 12-14 May 2014. Study research partners and representatives from the industry are in attendance. Various experts, including the Coordinator, Professor Patrizia Restani from the University of Milan (Italy), are available during the event at the Hotel Stefanie (Taborstraße 12, 1020 Vienna) for interviews. Please view the full programme at plantlibra2014.icc.or.at/programme and please feel free to contact us for an appointment at officeaticc [dot] or [dot] at.