Synthetic products and products of living origin – are they the same?

For the legislator and the technocrats in Brussels and the medicines regulatory authorities, there is no difference between a chemically synthesised molecule and a plant. The two are grouped together  and subjected to the same suite of regulations, thus bringing back into question the validity of centuries of popular experience gained by the free and wide usage of natural products which have no safety concerns. (See the page Liberate Medicinal Plants!)

In this way, a large number of the plants with traditional health or other benefits find themselves listed with synthetic molecules in order to constitute a homogeneous group entitled “Feed additives belonging to the group of flavouring and appetising substances” (The statutory grouping of substances which is the object of RCE 230/2013)

We also find some plants grouped together with synthetic medicines, as “Active pharmacological substances” (RCE 37/2010). A Market Authorisation being obligatory in this case whether the products on the list are of natural, plant origin or chemically synthesised.

For the REACH (Registration, evaluation and authorisation of chemicals, 2006) regulations, lavender essential oil (for example)  is treated in exactly the same way as are synthetic molecules produced by the chemical industry and is therefore required to go through the same costly registration procedure – which is totally out of proportion with the financial possibilities for the farmers who produce it.

This amalgam of plants and synthetic substances is biologically, conceptually and philosophically inadmissible. Can we really compare and find no difference between a synthetic mono-molecule and a living organism? 

The synthetic mono-molecular substance, whether its use is industrial, alimentary, pharmaceutical or as a chemical treatment in agriculture, is by nature a potentially hazardous and unknown creation put together in a laboratory. The useful lifespan of such substances is often limited to a few decades, after which it disappears into nothingness, from where it came; either to be replaced with another “improved” product which is more fashionable or more profitable for the patent holder or simply because, in using the product, we realise the inconveniences or toxicities which had been poorly evaluated or played down in its initial trials and market authorisation application. 

Plants are living organisms of the vegetable kingdom. Plants, and any of the natural products and extracts which can be made with the plant material, whether they be used as foodstuffs, condiments or medicinally are complex biological mixtures which possesses a natural variability of composition and cannot by nature be standardised and defined precisely and exhaustively by their  molecular composition in a meaningful way. They are are rather synergistic groups of compounds having, when taken as a whole, multiple, polyvalent, biocompatible properties.

Many plants have been used for centuries if not millenia – the bank of collective popular and professional experience related to the use of such plants over such a long time period allows the plants which present little or no safety concern to be highlighted easily. In more recent times, what we now call science has confirmed and validated this collective experience and the usefulness of such plants. It is therefore illegitimate and serves no useful purpose to legislate to restrict access and use of these natural resources.

The motivation for the restrictive regulation has clearly nothing to do with safety or public health concerns (the commonly cited pretexts for these new regulations) and everything to do with the competition which such plants pose to the monopoly desired by the huge multinational chemical and pharmaceutical industry which sells its range of patented synthetic products which have the required Market Authorisations.

A plant is an element of the collective living world (the natural biodiversity) with its range of multifunctional biological characteristics. For Man and other animals, plants are often foodstuffs, condiments and medicines. We must not forget also that there would not be the possibility of life on Earth without plants – which are the principle source of living matter, biological energy (by photosynthesis) and of oxygen. 

In addition we must remember all the useful, if not indispensable, non-biological functions performed by many plants – the provision of building materials, textiles, ornaments, jewelry… The plant world is the fundamental source of and ally to animal (including therefore human) life.

Synthetic chemicals on the other hand are substances which are not biocompatible and therefore provoke imbalances in the delicate equilibria of living organisms which are often aggressive and antagonistic to the biological processes of life. If you are not convinced of that fact, then take the time to read carefully the information sheets included with your medicines (which, incidentally, have Market Authorisations) and take note of the list of undesirable side-effects and contra-indications.

The use of, and the presence of the residues of, synthetic chemical products in agriculture, food manufacturing, health products, surface- and ground-water, building materials, industrial and household items for only a few decades has caused serious damage to the living world and the environment. Synthetic molecules often have a very slow degradation process and some persist indefinitely in the environment – the complete opposite to products derived from the living world itself – products which are naturally and rapidly recycled by biochemical, biological or microbiological processes.

To deprive us all, by the stroke of a pen, of the fundamental right to use other living organisms as Nature intended, is an abuse of power. An act which demonstrates ignorance of the special features of each living organism and the complementary role each plays in the ecosystem it cohabits with other plants and animals (including humans). 

The assimilation of plants into the same category of product as those of the synthetic chemical industries, and all the fallacious arguments and reasoning which flows from that, poses a severe threat to the future of the living world and the biological rules and balances which govern it. It is absolutely necessary to ensure that the living world and its needs be ranked above any judicial, political and financial considerations when making legislative decisions.

The legislator and the technocrat have no legitimacy of judgment in the field of the natural living world especially if, in misunderstanding the unavoidable laws of nature, they favour the industrial lobbies and incite the end user and consumer to seek out above all their limited range of products and options – in other words the synthetic chemical products – which are registered and authorised but which are not biocompatible and in many cases certainly not without risk and complications.

The group does not wish to deny the usefulness of the chemically synthesised products used in medicine today for certain pathological conditions. Merely to call for official recognition of the huge value of plant-based, natural alternatives which in many cases have been a part of popular culture for hundreds and thousands of years, by a major change in the way their use is allowed for in European legislation. Access should be given to the whole range of health options and not limited to the chemically synthesised sector, and the traditional plant-based products should be given a legal status which exempts them from the complex and very costly requirements placed upon the synthetic medicines seeking Market Authorisation – in recognition of their very long track record of efficacy and safety in traditional usage.

[Go to the petition]