Germany Overturns Kava Ban

One of Germany’s highest courts has ruled that Germ)any’s ban on products containing kava is unlawful.

(From Spore: The magazine for agriculture and rural development in ACP countries)

In June 2014, Germany’s Federal Administrative Court (FAC) ended a ban on kava-based products. The roots of the kava plant (Piper methysticum), which is grown in the Pacific, are used to produce a drink with sedative and anaesthetic properties. However, in 2002, the FAC banned kava-based products because of public health authority fears that they caused liver damage. Reversing that decision, the court concluded that the risks from using kava were not unusually high.

Josepho Malang Buleban from Vanuatu has been expanding kava production © J B Calo

Josepho Malang Buleban from Vanuatu has been expanding kava production © J B Calo

A Vanuatu-based researcher, Vincent Lebot, who provided scientific evidence at the trial, says that the victory came after a hard-fought battle which had a severe impact on exports to the EU and US. “This over-reaction cost hundreds of millions of dollars to the South Pacific kava growers. Not only did they lose the German market overnight, but also the whole EU market because countries like France and Switzerland decided to ban kava based on the German decision,” Lebot explained in an interview with Radio New Zealand. “And the American market, which at that time was growing very fast, was severely impacted.”

“What happened in Germany is a clear victory for all of us who know that when kava is properly used, with the right varieties cultivated with the right agricultural practices and processed in a reasonable way, it’s not a dangerous product,” Lebot added. “It has been drunk for millennia in the South Pacific and we know that there are no sights of liver toxicity – nothing comparable to alcohol.” Speaking to Radio New Zealand, the chair of the International Kava Executive Council, Tagaloa Eddie Wilson, said that he expects supplies to be back to normal within 3 years: “Now we are going to have to work with our farmers to rebuild and set production up again. At the moment there are supplies ready, available now, but not in the quantities that the market will require.”

But Lebot also acknowledged that the region’s kava trade is still under threat as there are serious problems regarding the quality of kava being exported. “The wrong varieties and the wrong parts of the plants are being exported,” he explains, warning that this is potentially very dangerous as exporting poor quality kava to the EU could result in further bans.

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