Compliance for Selling Herbs Online
Answered by: Conrad Richter
Question from: Tom
Posted on: October 09, 2007

Please tell me what the compliance for selling herbs and herbal products online is.

This cannot easily be answered in this forum. Laws governing the sale of herbs and products made with herbs are complex and differ in different countries. In most developed countries there is more than one law affecting the manufacture and sale of these products. In the United States, for example, the herb industry is regulated mainly on the authority of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act but other laws and regulations also play a role. The manufacture of the products and the health claims made for the products are largely regulated by the FDA, but the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has been very active shutting down herbal websites when online claims are deemed to be false and misleading. State laws sometimes have large effects on herb sales also, even if the products are sold online and delivered across state borders. In Canada, the Natural Health Products Directorate (NHPD) of Health Canada regulates herb sales but much of the enforcement is done by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and this separation of responsibility has led to a somewhat uneven application of the regulations. The European situation is complex also.

In practice, most countries allow relatively unfettered online sales of raw herbs and herbal products provided that the products meet manufacturing and packaging standards and provided that the medicinal claims made online are not over the top. Online merchants who are reselling approved products manufactured or imported by other companies generally have few problems with regulators. But online marketers who also manufacture or import their products often encounter greater regulatory burden than resellers do. These online merchants-manufacturers need to be extra careful to ensure that their online stores comply with applicable laws and regulations.

Government rules are one thing, but there is more to think about: online merchants must also ensure that their online stores to not expose their businesses to risk of lawsuits. For example, before ephedra products were banned by the FDA in the United States these products were widely sold as diet aids. Some of the products caused serious illness and even deaths which led to debilitating lawsuits. Good management of legal liability for online merchants involves a combination of careful review of advertising claims, appropriate disclaimers, and adequate insurance.

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