Monday April 21, 2014 - 12:59 pm | Login

Lawyers, scientists suspect two-day kava for kava ban

Left to right: Kava Export Dr Vincent Lebot, Scientist Dr Mathias Schmidt and Trader Lawyer Paolo R. Vergano

The Kava Act bans two-day kava export and preliminary results in the scientific part of a scientific study due to the kava ban in Europe indicate that there is a scientific difference in the safety and quality of kava depending on whether it is noble kava or two-day kava.

The International Kava Conference now on at Warwick Le Lagon Resort & Spa has pointed an accusing finger at the Vanuatu two-day kava as the most potential culprit which prompted Germany and the European Union to ban kava export from the Pacific for the last ten years.

But the Conference heard that in the years after the Act came into force; an alarming quantity of two-day kava has been exported because there is no mechanism at home to check the type of kava before it is exported.

European Trade Lawyer Paolo R. Vergano and German Scientist Dr Mathias Schmidt have been helping the Pacific Island Nations of Vanuatu, Fiji, Samoa and Tonga to find a solution to their kava ban from the European market for the last ten years and have said the issue is “politically motivated” and that the fight is now in the middle of the tunnel and the light is still a long way to go to reach it.

They and the Conference have been sponsored by the ACP and MTS Programs in Brussels to look into the kava ban and Trade Lawyer Vergano described the measure taken by Germany and then followed by many other member countries of the European Union as “essentially trade discriminatory”.

He said, “It is a measure that was taken on the basis of legitimate objectives of health and safety protection but its feedback on trade is clearly disproportionate, is more trade restrictive than necessary to achieve this objective and it is not also scientifically justified.

“It is now ten years since German authorities have effectively stopped trade into Europe of kava, they have not allowed the industry to prove their case and the German Pharmaceutical industry has tried for many years with the help of Dr Mathias Schmidt. This has not worked and it is clearly politically motivated and now the German Pharmaceutical Industry in Germany is taking a court case against the Bfarm which is the German Food and Safety Authority that has taken this restrictive measure.

“Again we have looked at the consistency of these measures within the system of the World Trade Organisation Rules and we believe that they are not WTO consistent. At the same time a lot of work has been done within this consultancy to provide additional conclusive science so that the Pacific and show that kava is safe, quality kava is reliable and must be allowed back into Europe and other countries. This is a little bit of what we have been working on and we will continue assisting Vanuatu and the Pacific to try and break this deadlock and do justice both in Europe and at the WTO”.

On the preliminary results done by scientists to show whether a type of kava is noble kava or two-day kava, the Trade Lawyer said this can be evidence in science and should be the basis for the definition of harmonised standard within CODEX and it must be the basis for the resumption of full and unvetted trade to Europe and to other countries.

Scientist Mathias Schmidt from Germany has been working in kava research for more than 15 years and confirmed having found scientific evidence in his team’s work on two-day kava that was exported from the South Pacific.

He said he and his team raised the question of where it was two-day kava that was responsible for the alleged finding that prompted the ban on kava from the islands. “If there is a problem then logic tells us that we should stick to (kava) qualities that are known from traditions here and the South Pacific to be safe”, the scientist said.

“The two-day variety that had not been used before, when it was first exported to Europe people did not have the experience on its negative effects while here (in Vanuatu) people knew that when you take two-day kava that it gives you a hangover and it gives you two days of side effects”.

But he said, “The export of two-day kava has increased in the last ten years and if this was really the reason for what we saw as adverse events in Europe then it is alarming and it should be stopped.

“There is this Kava Act in Vanuatu that says you must not export two-day kava and it is still exported”.

Out here in the islands there is no scientific mechanism in place to identify two-day kava from noble kava. The scientists are working closely with the EU-ACP to be able to complete the task after exportation.

Schmidt said they are working on the project to help importers use a barometer to identify good kava from two-day kava. “My suggestions to kava farmers in Vanuatu are for them to plant only noble kava. Use the traditional way of uprooting to make sure that you have the secondary roots. Make sure that you peel your root stumps and don’t use upper ground parts”, he said.

The kava ban in Europe he said is not a ban on kava but on medicinal products. He said the problem has to be solved in Europe to act as a signal to the world that kava is acceptable again.

On whether kava is going to be re-accepted into Europe, the scientist said it is going to be very difficult and a likely way out may be a legal challenge in a European Court of Justice.