Bill aims to curb foreign ginseng smuggling

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Ginseng United states senate

The Wisconsin ginseng industry could be given a new layer of
protection against damage from smuggled ginseng sold as 'American',
with a new bill was introduced that would require raw root to be
labeled with its country of origin.

According to US Senators Russ Feingold and Herb Kohl and Congressman Dave Obey, who introduced the Ginseng Harvest Labeling Act of 2007 to the Senate and the House of Representatives on Friday, Wisconsin ginseng is widely regarded as top-notch quality, with high levels of the active ingredient ginsenoside and low levels of chemical residue.

However the bill's authors claim that smugglers are labeling Canadian or Asian-grown ginseng as 'Wisconsin-grown', under-cutting Wisconsin growers and misleading consumers into buying an inferior product.

The new legislation would make it necessary for raw ginseng root, whether sold at wholesale or retail, to indicate on the label where it was harvested.

Ninety-five per cent of American ginseng is grown in Wisconsin.

According to the Ginseng Board of Wisconsin, there are now less than 200 growers in the state.

Butch Weege, executive director of the Ginseng Board of Wisconsin, told that this figure is down from around 1,400 growers in the early 1990s, when annual harvest typically weighted in at 2.4m lbs.

This season the GBW is expecting a harvest of between 500 and 600 lbs.

Weege said that the problems of mislabelling and piracy have been instrumental to this decline.

For instance, in Canada growers can produce more ginseng per acre as they use pesticides to protect the crop.

But while these pesticides help the plant, they also leave behind residues that impair quality.

"If a customer wants to buy Canadian ginseng, they should know they are growing Canadian ginseng," said Weege.

At retail level Wisconsin grown ginseng can fetch between $80 and $120 per lb, but there are variations depending on grade, size, shape, color and wrinkle.

Senator Obey said: "We need to do what we can to keep the industry healthy, and legislation will help," he said.

While he does not think the new legislation will wipe out the problem of ginseng smuggling entirely, he believes it "will make it more difficult for the smugglers and counterfeiters and provide us with another weapon to fight them".

Kohl added: "Intentionally mislabelling any food product is a serious offence…

This bill will help Wisconsin's ginseng growers protect their market share and ensure that consumers will know exactly what they are buying."

American Ginseng, or Panax quinquefolius , is a white root that has a long history of use to relieve stress, increase stamina and increase resistance to common illnesses such as colds.

In an earlier effort to protect the interests of Wisconsin growers, in 1991 the GBW introduced its registered Wisconsin Ginseng Seal, which is used at point of purchase to identify ginseng that is 100 percent grown and harvested in Wisconsin.

Weege said that the board has been battling counterfeiting of this seal since 2004, particularly by Chinese companies.

It has made significant headway in this battle and has successfully taken several violators to court.

Weege said that the Chinese government has been helpful in this respect.

This, he said, would be down to China's membership of the World Trade Organisation.

The introduction of the bill, which is similar to bills previously introduced by Feingold, is supported by the American Herbal Products Association.

AHPA president Michael McGuffin said: "This bill will ensure that buyers of whole ginseng root are given truthful information as to its source, without creating unnecessary labeling requirements for other herbal ingredients or for finished herbal products."

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